By Cheryl Truman
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) 80-year-old year old Joyce McClendon Evans still works full-time as a University of Kentucky biomedical senior research associate. Evans helped make pioneering discoveries about the effect of space travel on the cardiovascular system.
Sara Day Evans compares her mother Joyce to the “hidden figures” NASA computational whizzes profiled in 2016’s hit movie starring Taraji P. Henson.
The women in the film did the mathematics during the early years of the United States space program.
“Most of her acquaintances and the thousands of people she has fed at her home in Midway, Ky., through the years have no idea the groundbreaking work she has done with NASA,” Sara Evans wrote of Joyce McClendon Evans in a message.
This, then, is how an 80-year-old woman who still works full-time as a University of Kentucky biomedical senior research associate helped make pioneering discoveries about the effect of space travel on the cardiovascular system. She also worked for an Air Force study on the effects of low-level flight.
If “cardiovascular system” sounds a little too high-falutin, let’s break it down. In space, your body changes, Joyce Evans said: You lose body fluid, and the fluid you have puffs into the upper part of the body.
The heart is used to pumping blood vertically against a gravitational force; when it loses that gravity, there is no resistance, and more blood is pumped into the head.
“You go up within the first 24 hours … the receptors are saying, ‘There’s too much fluid in here, get it out.’ You lose about a liter of fluid,” Joyce Evans said.
The remaining fluid stays in the upper body until you return to normal gravity, when the fluid thuds back into the lower body.