Do you know what a Garn is? I confess, until a few days ago, I hadn't a clue. One of my oldest friends is New York's Douglas Garn, but not sure his surname stands for anything.
Let's take a little look at the subject, shall we? Garn might have its etymological roots in the olde english gearn, yarn fibers twisted for weaving. A word with Danish or scandinavian ancestry.
In Proto germanic it can be translated as guts or intestine.
In cockney slang it denotes mockery or disbelief.
It is also translated, in various brogues, as net or twine. Thread or yarn in Norway.
I was listening to the radio the other day and heard that garn is also a NASA term, named after the late Utah Senator Jake Garn, that measures how an astronaut is feeling. Or should I say, how bad he is feeling. The Garn scale measures something called Space Adaptation Syndrome. You may remember, Old Jake took a ride in space in 1985.
Jake Garn was sick, was pretty sick. I don't know whether we should tell stories like that. But anyway, Jake Garn, he has made a mark in the Astronaut Corps because he represents the maximum level of space sickness that anyone can ever attain, and so the mark of being totally sick and totally incompetent is one Garn. Most guys will get maybe to a tenth Garn, if that high. And within the Astronaut Corps, he forever will be remembered by that.
—Robert E. Stevenson
I was a serial puker in childhood. Copters and certain car seats maybe still can make me hurl. I think I would be a very high achiever on the Garn Scale. For more on the subject of space sickness, check out this link.
The simplest explanation for space sickness mirrors that of car sickness. It’s a sensory conflict in which the semicircular canals and otolith organs of the inner ear, which make up the vestibular system, tell you one thing—for example, that you’re moving—while your eyes, fixed on a book in the car or an instrument panel in the shuttle, tell you that you’re standing still.
A fundamental difference is that in a moving car, or even in the high performance T-38 supersonic jet that astronauts use to train, you’re still subject to Earth’s one-G pull. In orbit, you’re in continuous freefall, which just can’t be duplicated on Earth. People who can tolerate motion sickness on Earth sometimes suffer the most from space sickness. And the common pale face that precedes a bout of retching on Earth doesn’t happen in space because of the fluid shift upward.
There are few good predictors of who will suffer space sickness. But statistics show that between 70 percent and 90 percent feel it in some form on the shuttle, and about one in ten suffer severe symptoms including retching. Senator Jake Garn became the poster child of the puking shuttle flier on STS-51D in April, 1985, and astronauts now jokingly use the “Garn Scale” to rate their own severity.
Oman claims that vision plays a complex role in space sickness. “What seems to be happening in weightlessness is that when you put your feet toward the ceiling, something fundamentally changes. Your brain says, ‘Wait, that’s supposed to be the floor down there.’” Like the famous Necker Cube perception riddle, the orbiting brain goes through a series of visual illusions during its first days in orbit.
For some professional astronauts, the answer lies in taking antihistamines like promethizine (Phenergan), and scopalamine. But opinions are mixed about their risks. They cause drowsiness that some astronauts would rather avoid, even if it means gritting one’s teeth through a few days of space sickness. Many astronauts try to keep their heads as still as possible for the first 48 hours of a spaceflight, and definitely avoid the mirthful tumbling seen in countless film clips from orbit. Many shuttle commanders encourage their crews to remain upright with respect to each other and to any wall displays for the first few days of a flight.
Space tourism promoters may some day give similar advice to passengers bound for orbiting hotels. And if the bag has to be used, make it a good seal.
I loved scopalamine!