You Could Totally Do Handstands – in Space

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I?m not athletic. I never could do a handstand, even if I tried to cheat by leaning very strategically against a wall. The combination of my weight and the strange feeling of being upside down always got the best of me.

Look up astronauts in space, though, and you?ll see people somersaulting several times without stopping, lying down in mid-air, and, yes, doing one-handed handstands ? with only their fingertips, no less.

So why can all these astronauts easily do feats even the best gymnasts only dream of, and humans on Earth can?t? You can chalk that up to how space affects your body and your perception of the world.

You can?t push against your own weight

On Earth, handstands are hard because you have to lift against your weight. And you only weigh something because gravity is pulling you down towards the ground.

In space, handstands can be easier or harder than they are on Earth. If you?re in stable orbit, like on the International Space Station (ISS), handstands are much easier because you are practically weightless. That?s because the ISS is flying around Earth in a way that cancels out the pull of gravity, so that it can keep orbiting the planet at the same distance.

If you?re not in stable orbit, though, you can no longer ignore the pull of gravity. And depending on where you are in space, you could weigh more or less than you do on Earth.

So if you want a guaranteed easy handstand in space, get on the ISS or a spaceship that?s in stable orbit. You can even take a great photo while you?re at it.

You reorient yourself to your surroundings

Even if you?re light as a feather, you?d expect that being upside down on your hands for a while would make you feel pretty strange.

That?s certainly true on Earth. Normally, your brain figures out how you?re oriented by consolidating cues it receives from different parts of your body, like what you?re seeing, how you?re balancing, and how your muscles move in relation to one another.

But if you?re not on Earth, your brain receives mixed messages. You might see that you?re upside down, but the rest of your body feels like it?s right-side up.

That?s because gravity affects one of the biggest contributors to your personal GPS: your inner ear. There, fluids cause hairs to bend in certain ways. This movement tells your brain about your orientation and movement ? whether you are walking in a straight line, or spinning in a tea cup at the amusement park, or leaning on a wall at a 45-degree angle while attempting a handstand.

And without gravity?s pull, the hairs in your inner ear don?t move like they normally do, which mixes up the signals it sends to the brain.

Eventually, however, the brain adapts. It learns to rely on the eyes, and reprograms the signals from your ears to match what you?re seeing. Once this happens, being upside down doesn?t feel so weird anymore. You can, like astronaut Tim Peake here, take advantage of your weightlessness and do as many somersaults ? and, of course, handstands ? as you please.

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