Nikolaos Divinis BEng (Hons), MSc, PhD
Aerospace Engineer, Founder of EN School of Unity,
The ‘’black hole’’ is really one of the most mysterious celestial objects. Some people, indeed, claim that the laws of physics do not exist in its interior.
A ‘’black hole’’ is that point in space where the core of a gigantic star used to be.
It is a sphere of matter and not a material vacuum. Whatever ‘’falls’’ inside it ‘’gets lost’’ from the universe, because gravity here is so strong that even the light cannot escape from its tractive force. So, the term ‘’black hole’’ is used in this sense. ‘’Hole’’, because an object like this absorbs like a ‘’spacial whirlpool’’ anything that crosses its path, and ‘’black’’, because not even the light can escape from its ‘’surface’’ so as to be recorded by our eyes or by the various sensitive instruments of our observatories. It is a ‘’star’’ which has collapsed into an infinitesimally tiny size, leaving behind only the intensity of its gravity.
Human beings need to go through a black hole in order to return to the original organism. Humans need to become healthy in order to ‘’rise’’. Not even the light can go through, as it does not express the complete sense of light that is diffused in the Universe, but it is only expressed as photon. A state of light of inferior quality.
The black hole represents both symbolically and literally the condition which isolates our universe, our galaxy from the sound concepts of the Universe. It is also, both in symbolic and literal terms, the gate through which someone can go to that side.
To go through this gate, someone should understand the concept of love, which is the only concept that can be expressed to the full extent in our world, in modern civilisation, because it is the sole compass/lodestar that will lead us to the bliss of our existence as we take pleasure in the gift of this life, and later of the next.”
Excerpt From a book by Nikolaos Divinis. “Humans, A conceptual approach to existence.” Daidaleos Publications, iBooks, Amazon
Prof. K. Ganapathy
InnovaSpace Advisory Board member, Past President Telemedicine Society of India, Former Secretary/Past President Neurological Society of India & Indian Society for Stereotactic & Functional Neurosurgery, Emeritus Professor Tamilnadu Dr MGR Medical University, Former Adjunct Professor IIT Madras & Anna University Madras, Founder Director, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation & Apollo Tele Health.
Three decades ago even contemplating the subject of the human brain in space would have been considered preposterous. Two decades hence and Extra Terrestrial Neurosciences could become a distinct sub-speciality. With periods of stay in the International Space Station steadily increasing, manned missions to the Moon being revived, and even humans going to Mars being seriously planned, it is imperative we know what happens structurally and functionally to various parts of the human brain when it is exposed to microgravity and cosmic radiation for prolonged periods. This is no longer a theoretical academic discussion. For decades we have relied on experimental simulation studies on the brains of rats exposed to microgravity and cosmic radiation. Mice exposed for six months to the radiation levels prevalent in interplanetary space exhibited serious memory and learning impairments, also becoming more anxious and fearful. Structural changes at a microscopic level, including changes in neurotransmitters were demonstrated.
It is only in the last decade that reliable, prospective clinical and sophisticated imaging studies have been carried out on astronaut brains before and after exposure to real world conditions. The human brain was primarily designed for standing in gravity on Earth with almost no exposure to radiation. When we leave the Earth’s gravitational pull all bodily fluids move upward. The first evidence for structural changes in the brain after long-term spaceflight includes narrowing of the central sulcus, a shrinking of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) spaces at the vertex, and an upward shift of the brain. MRI scans before spaceflight, shortly after and several months after return to Earth revealed a significant increase in size of the lateral and third ventricles immediately post-flight and a trend towards normalization at follow-up. There was an upward shift of the brain after all long-duration flights. Significant volumetric gray matter decreases, including large areas in the temporal and frontal poles and around the orbits have been documented. This effect was more noticeable in crewmembers with prolonged stay in the International Space Station. Bilateral focal gray matter increases within the medial primary somatosensory and motor cortex (cerebral areas representing lower limbs) were noted. Cortical reorganization in an astronaut’s brain after long-duration spaceflight has now been confirmed.
MRI documented structural changes raise the risk of possible impairment of behaviour, cognition and performance. This could compromise mission critical decisions. In 2017, a study revealed that long missions in space results in reduction of protective CSF surrounding brain volume at the top of astronauts’ brains. These changes underlie the astronauts’ performance on certain critical tasks, such as opening the space station’s hatch, climbing a ladder, exiting a vehicle or even walking along the surface of a planet. Follow up MRI scans have revealed that re-exposure to Earth’s gravity and lack of continuing exposure to unnatural radiation can generally reverse these space travel induced changes. Astronauts have to undergo extensive training before and during spaceflight to maintain muscle mass, and this can result in localised increased grey matter, particularly in the sensorimotor regions of the brain, representing the lower limbs. This is due to neuroplasticity or adaptation within the cerebrum and cerebellum.
The most notable findings in the MRI’s were a post-flight increase in the stimulation-specific connectivity of the right posterior supra marginal gyrus with the rest of the brain; a strengthening of connections between the left and right insulae, decreased connectivity of the vestibular nuclei, right inferior parietal cortex and cerebellum with areas associated with motor, visual, vestibular, and proprioception functions. Study of permanent visual acuity impairments associated with spaceflight have demonstrated structural changes in the CSF around the optic nerves and the globe of the eyes.
Domain expertise in Extra Terrestrial Neurosciences will eventually be a reality. While the number of subjects studied may at the best be a few hundreds, the lessons learnt could make us relook at the traditional neurosciences we have been believing in for the last two centuries.
Let us never forget that the future is always ahead of schedule !!
The InnovaSpace Team
The person who will first set foot on Mars is already born...
How is it possible to keep in touch with family while on Mars? Have you ever thought about this? This very important question was asked by Vincenzo, aged 13, from Italy, who participated in the InnovaSpace Kids2Mars project.
The answer is simple: you will be able to send emails and photos direct from Mars, but you'll have to be patient, as the messages will take about 10 minutes to reach Earth because of the distance. It's very far as you know.
Who explained this to Vincenzo was João Lousada, an analogue astronaut who participated in a Mars simulation mission in a Middle Eastern desert in the country of Oman. Lousada said that astronauts will need to keep in touch with their families, who are their main link to Earth.
Like Vicenzo, 52 other children and adolescents participated in this project. They were able to ask questions of astronauts from two simulated Mars missions, one in Oman and the other in the Utah desert, in the USA.
Girls and boys from 33 different countries asked smart and creative questions that can divided into 7 subject groups:
1) Martian environment & resources
2) Astronaut wellbeing
3) Equipment needed for Mars exploration
4) Interplanetary travel - from Earth to Mars
5) Mars habits
6) Astronaut selection & training
7) Animals, plants & food on Mars
The Kids2Mars project is an initiative of InnovaSpace, an international institution created with the aim of making science more accessible.
Children born in this century will witness a transformation in the history of humanity: the first mission to the Red Planet. The journey to Mars will be an event that marks our lives, just as the arrival of humans on the Moon in 1969 changed the lives of generations. And InnovaSpace wants to help young people to participate in this dream.
Como é possível manter contato com a família estando em Marte? Você já pensou sobre isso?
Essa pergunta tão importante foi feita pelo Vincenzo, de 13 anos, que é da Itália e participa do projeto Kids2Mars, da InnovaSpace.
A resposta é simples: direto de Marte, você vai poder mandar e-mail, fotos, mas tem que ter paciência, porque as mensagens vão demorar pelo menos 10 minutos para chegar à Terra por causa da distância.
Quem explicou ao Vincenzo foi o astronauta João Lousada, que participou da simulação de uma viagem a Marte num deserto de Omã, no Oriente Médio. Lousada disse que os astronautas vão precisar ter contato com suas famílias, que são o principal vínculo deles com a Terra.
Assim como Vicenzo, outras 52 crianças e adolescentes participaram desse projeto. Eles puderam fazer perguntas a astronautas de duas missões simuladas de viagem a Marte, uma em Omã e a outra no deserto do estado de Utah, nos Estados Unidos.
Meninas e meninos de 33 países diferentes fizeram perguntas inteligentes e criativas que podem ser divididas em 7 grupos:
1) ambiente e recursos marcianos
2) bem-estar dos astronautas
3) equipamentos para visitar Marte
4) viagem interplanetária
5) hábitos em Marte
6) treinamento e seleção para astronauta
7) animais, plantas e comida em Marte
As crianças nascidas neste século vão ser testemunhas de uma transformação na história da humanidade: a primeira missão ao planeta vermelho. Assim como em 1969 a chegada de seres humanos à Lua mudou a vida de gerações, a viagem a Marte será um acontecimento que vai marcar as nossas existências. E a InnovaSpace quer contribuir para que nossos jovens participem desse sonho.
Nikolaos Divinis BEng(Hons), MSc, PhD
Aerospace Engineer, Founder of EN School of Unity,
The Big Bang has thus far been the prevailing cosmogonic theory, according to which, the Universe was created by an excessively dense and hot state, approximately 13.8 billion years ago. According to science, time and space did not exist before the Big Bang.
Only the cosmic core existed, that original seed of limitless dimensions, which enclosed the germ of a whole universe. Everything started with the ''Big Bang''. Time zero is the moment of explosion, from which everything originates. In a storm of creation, subatomic particles collide with each other and are ejected. Photons change into matter, matter changes into energy, energy changes into matter. Every material particle we see around us originates from that first millisecond. And reaching today, when the visible Universe contains approximately 3 to 7x1022 stars, which are organised in approximately 8x1010 galaxies.
The reason behind the Big Bang
The objective of every element of the Universe is to express its superessential state. This can be reached only by experiencing to the fullest the unity with itself and with the other elements that are widespread in the universe. A human being who has reached this state is free from everything, with no pettiness, having no problems with fellow humans, is healthy and has all that is needed to lead their life, is blessed, which means imperishable, steadfast, immune and irreproachable. Can a human being experience unity during their life? The answer is yes, because it is something contained within, but it has simply been forgotten. It was acquired and then was lost. The heart leads towards that way, but the will is not strong enough to oppose the prescripts of human society. All it would take is the will and the way to unity would be paved. Here on Earth humans are experiencing the loss of unity and at this space-time moment, the universe is their guide. ALL the conditions of our life are synchronized with this in mind.
Everything started with the Big Bang. Scientists believe this was the beginning, but I would say, this was the end. The end of unity. And as the years go by, the elements increasingly move away from each other (the universe constantly expanding), in the same way human souls are moving away from the Source and from each other.
Science is led to conclusions through the experiment and observation, by means of analysis and not of synthesis. It interprets the findings through the limitations of the mind and through doubt, and not through the certainty that there is a wise cooperation behind everything.
Fabrício Edler Macagnan PhD
Assistant Professor, Dept of Physical Therapy, Graduate Program in Rehabilitation Sciences
Can technology really be seen as something unnatural?
Or is it plausible to assume that all the evolutionary processes developed on our planet have been truly responsible for our ability to promote evolution (transformation) in a fully conscious and directed manner?
Well, if this is true, then we can say that “all technology is eminently a natural manifestation of the evolutionary process.”
In the ongoing developmental process, how many different random combinations were needed to enable the evolution of simple inorganic compounds into extremely complex living organisms, capable of interpreting, acting and reacting to environmental events? In the animal kingdom, we find numerous individual and collective actions that occur to ensure the preservation of species. Each of these strategies have been tested for efficiency by the process of natural selection, and from this perspective it can be said that the validation of a viable adaptation represents a natural manifestation of biotechnological development.
These acts of biotechnological development range from behavioural patterns that are beneficial for preservation of the most adapted genes and, consequently, more prone to reproductive success, through to defence techniques using chemical substances capable of triggering complex and fatal metabolic reactions in opponents (to this day, the pharmaceutical industry maintain strong interest in these biotechnologies). There are numerous evolutionary strategies that could be described, but in short, each of these adaptations (strategies) could be framed under the concept of technology, as technology involves the systematic study of techniques, processes, methods, means and instruments that are used to achieve a determined goal.
The great difference between the processes occurring at the beginning of species evolution and those that now occur is really the most remarkable fact of all development – the ability to become aware of certain processes of existence (life). Whenever I stop to think about it, I’m extremely curious to know at what point in evolution did the ability emerge of being able to connect information from different body movement receptors (sensors) in a sufficiently organised way to permit repetition (from a sequence of carefully and efficiently stored historical events) of the intensity, direction, and reaction of forces acting on moving bodies to the point of making interpretation and reaction intentionally directed for one's own benefit. This intricate capacity for historical analysis has enabled numerous evolutionary advances in species, which have since developed techniques for collecting, hunting, fighting and defending, whether individually or collectively, with such efficiency that survival in ensured, even in the face of drastic environmental transformations.
Even more noticeable has been the developments in language and writing, a crucial step for storing and sharing huge volumes of information, which has accelerated the creation of useful techniques for dealing with questions involving mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, etc. Moreover, even after conquering land, sea and sky, all known sciences have undeniably been heavily affected by the computational advances in data processing and sharing (internet).
Humankind has greatly enlarged knowledge of many natural events and even ventured into Space, but without a doubt, something that is truly spectacular is the surprising discovery of the nano-microscopic features that enable us to edit (manipulate) portions of our genetic library, a place where information has been perpetuated over eons. Future prospects for the use of gene editing in the scientific scenario remains unclear, but the possibility of acting intentionally at a molecular level may effectively contribute to a reduction in the need to treat disease and guarantee a new step in the evolutionary scale, in which our focus shifts to the promotion of health improvement and living conditions.
For a long time the natural selection of best strategies has been restricted to the field of spontaneous randomness, but we have now developed rigorously designed laboratory assessments to test hypotheses, which are validated through a specific set of statistical rules that increasingly allow us to project the future probability of success or failure of a given action. With new computational advances (Internet of Things and quantum processors) we will further accelerate the progress of technological development. There is, however, no point in so much technology if we maintain prehistoric attitudes that dominate behavioural rules. For example, greed, which was once so necessary for survival, is one such behaviour that, in my view, should have long since fallen into disuse, together with violence and war. An existence of peace and harmony is more than feasible. We have a huge arsenal of knowledge to ensure a much healthier future for all living beings on our planet - we just need to want it enough! I sincerely hope we have the wisdom needed to make good ethical and legal choices that lead us along a successful path for all.
Author: Adriana Bos-Mikich PhD
Department of Morphological Sciences, ICBS, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
The last few decades have seen remarkable progress in our ability to safely launch manned craft into the black abyss of space, boosted in recent years by the growing involvement of commercial space enterprise, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. With it has come a rising desire to work towards the establishment of longer-term human settlements in orbiting space stations and on the Moon and Mars. Recent experiments, although methodologically limited, have demonstrated that frozen human sperm samples are not affected by the microgravity conditions encountered in spaceflight, which is an important and positive finding.
However, life in space is not confronted by microgravity alone, but is also faced with high radiation levels, which may well represent a relevant source of concern when dealing with human reproduction beyond Earth. Cryopreserved sperm and oocyte samples stored in outer space under these two hostile conditions must survive and maintain viability long enough to generate viable embryos, if they are eventually to result in healthy babies born aboard space stations. The putative effects of long-term storage of human gametes and embryos under Earth atmospheric conditions have already been investigated. Data from early clinical and experimental studies have shown that background radiation has no deleterious impact on babies created after long-term storage of frozen human embryos and oocytes. Therefore, the next steps should involve similar experiments taking place under the conditions of being in an outer space environment, where radiation levels are far higher than on Earth, before considering the generation of embryos using cryopreserved gametes stored on space stations.
Nonetheless, the risks of reduced viability due to radiation levels and microgravity are not the only concerns related to the cryostorage and shipment of human gametes. There are other risks associated with the cryostorage of biological material, both on Earth and in Space, ranging from the transmission of diseases between samples stored in liquid nitrogen, to unintentional loss due accidental warming. The loss of oocytes and embryos due to major equipment failure has been reported in fertility clinics, with thousands of gametes and embryos being lost worldwide. As reported by assisted reproduction specialist Dr Mina Alikani in 2018, the maintenance of a very low temperature and avoidance of temperature fluctuations are key factors for the safe and long-term cryostorage of human cells and tissues. Additionally, the shipment and handling of cryopreserved biological samples represents another potential hazard for gametes and embryos. Results of research by Casey McDonald and colleagues in 2011, using donated human oocytes, warned of the effects of the ‘inherent perils of shipping’ on the lowering of survival rates, with exposure to elevated ambient temperature and air pressure, vibration or any other physical shock potentially contributing to poorer results.
Therefore, for the successful transport of biological samples under cryostorage, it is essential that appropriate shipping vessels be used, such as those allowing continuous temperature monitoring, rather than relying on data collected at the final destination.
Big question marks remain as to whether healthy babies can be born following the use of in vitro fertilization technologies performed in outer space. Furthermore, major safety and ethical concerns must be taken into consideration before such a giant leap for humanity is taken.
See also article: Assisted reproduction frontiers in outer space
Nelson A. Campos Vinagre
Commercial pilot / Professor of Sports Science
Sporting activities for athletes with disability have existed for more than a 100 years. Relevant contributions to this area of knowledge occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries that demonstrated the importance of sports participation in the rehabilitation and re-education process of people with special needs. Cutting-edge research has targeted methods that can reduce the consequences of living with reduced mobility and, at the same time, provide new ideas and possibilities for engaging in sporting activities as a means of treatment and rehabilitation. This has led in recent decades to greater opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in sports, and the prospect of further moves for inclusion in the coming years should continue to help improve their quality of life.
The mobility provided by assistive technologies is known to contribute positively to the medical and psychological needs and treatment of casualties of armed conflict and has provided them with opportunities to overcome the life-changing injuries they have endured, both the physical and mental challenges. The Invictus Games, championed by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, which first took place in London UK in 2014, is an excellent example of how the power of sporting inclusion can inspire wounded and sick service personnel in their rehabilitation, providing an arena to not only motivate them in their personal journeys to recovery but also to generate a wider understanding and respect from the general public for those who serve their country.
Equally, the showcase events of the Summer and Winter Paralympics, through being linked and following on from the traditional Olympic games for non-handicapped athletes, fosters greater equality for the disabled, putting them on the same global platform and helping change the way disability is perceived. More than 4,400 athletes with disability are expected to compete in the Summer Paralympics to be held in Tokyo in August 2020. The rising number of people with disabilities, covering all age groups, is made more evident through witnessing the larger numbers of these individuals taking part in physical and sporting activities. Their participation in sports as a means of improving health, quality of life and social interaction is an area of interest that I have followed over the many years of my career and it gave direction to my PhD research.
My doctoral thesis intended to improve understanding of the process of evaluating people with physical incapacities in the same way as people considered non-handicapped. It involved submitting the German athletes from the Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team to a standard physiological test on a treadmill and to an evaluation process performed in a wind tunnel, a device normally used to test aerodynamic profiles. It was a fascinating project as the relationship between the needs of those people being studied and the evaluation instrument used was not obvious, but we aimed to better observe broader and more accurate responses related to the physical and aerodynamics performance of the skiers involved, which it is hoped can benefit not only the ski team members, but also non-athletes who may or may not practice this sport.
The biomechanical aspects related to posture, motor learning and motor development of people with disability were also considered, as they may perform sports as a way of preventing major health risk implications or may desire to practice sports as a rehabilitative process to improve motor skills.
The motivation behind my thesis was also based on the possibility of conducting research that allowed the use and unification of different areas of expertise. The physiological investigation of disabled athletes, combining with testing them with aerodynamic loads in a wind tunnel could bring advances related to quality of life and the specific training and health of people with disabilities. A further important motivating factor was the idea of promoting the social inclusion of people with special needs through the organisation and interpretation of the scientific information obtained in this research, and applying the findings to scenarios of daily life and not just for elite athletes.
The efforts towards inclusion of individuals with special needs are helped with the advances in assistive technologies, such as exoskeletons to help people stand and walk, and numerous smartphone apps to help the visually impaired and deaf. Many countries have legislated to ensure that discrimination due to disability is avoided in the employment market. Therefore, with talk of ‘hotels’ in space and craft similar to the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform (Gateway) in the near future, should people with disability be considered for space travel and work where they are not pinned down by gravity? In fact, the answer is another question – why not? Stephen Hawking experienced microgravity during a parabolic flight, and seemed to safely enjoy floating in the air. However, studies are needed to respond to questions like these, but if they are never asked, they will never be answered.
Adam J Crellin
Graduate Medical Student, Oxford University; Analog Astronaut, Austrian Space Forum
While attending the 2019 European Mars Conference in London this week at the Institute of Physics, we had the pleasure of witnessing the graduation ceremony of the next cohort of newly qualified Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) analog astronauts, who will take part in next years' AMADEE20 Mars analog mission in Israel. Analog astronauts are people who have been trained to test equipment and conduct activities under simulated space conditions, and they play an important role in preparing for future Moon and Mars missions. We liked so much the graduation speech given by analog astronaut Adam Crellin that we asked if we could publish it here on the InnovaSpace website to inspire all the young would-be astronauts out there - dream big!
"I would like to open by saying not only how much of an honour it is to speak on behalf of my classmates and the Austrian Space Forum today, but also to stand in front of you all as a newly qualified analog astronaut. I am especially proud to be speaking at a European-wide conference in the UK, organised by the recently reformed Mars Society UK.
In classrooms across the UK, and even the world, children are being asked by their primary school teachers, the existential question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. Some of these children, fascinated by space, will say they want to be an astronaut. Children often continue this hope as they grow older, perhaps keeping it a bit quieter, guarding it a bit more closely. Later, they then discover that there are a huge range of diverse opportunities in space, and that astronauts are one small cog in a large machine. A machine that contains astronauts who plant flags; plant experts who grow astrocrops; astronomers who study the universe and its laws; lawyers who write legislation through careful engineering; engineers who build spacecraft that rock; and, well, for those who like rocks, there is geology as well as countless other professions."
"As we prepare for a renewed age of crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit, to fill the steps of the Apollo astronauts, and extend those tracks further than have ever been achieved before, we are reminded of the importance of analog missions. In the same way famous twentieth-century polar explorer, Roald Amundsen, spent years experimenting, refining, and proving equipment and procedures suitable for a South Pole expedition, we too are preparing for a Mars expedition. And equally so, preparedness will be key to success. For theory and strictly controlled laboratory research, can only partially answer some of the questions about what to expect, and how to work on Mars. Analog research missions, including those of the Austrian Space Forum, help to provide further answers.
To be an analog astronaut, is to be a unique cog in our space industry machine. A cog whose sporks interlink with many different cogs, working across disciplines with research groups throughout Europe. A well-oiled cog, remaining fit and healthy in preparedness for any challenge which may arise. And a cog which turns equally well with many cogs, both the rusted expert cogs, and the shiny new ones, who we seek to inspire the next generation of Mars pioneers; perhaps the most important task we all have. But despite these unique qualities, we remember that we are still a small cog and that it is our collective effort, turning together, which will one day lead us to Mars. To be part of this small community with big dreams, is the greatest honour of any analog astronaut."
Adam J Crellin, 4th November 2019
Dr Karina Oliani
ER Doctor, mountaineer & adventurer
My name is Karina Oliani, and I'm a doctor specializing in Emergency Medicine and Rescue in Remote Areas. Outdoor challenges have always been my passion, and because of this, I've participated in countless expeditions at sea, up mountains, in jungles and in the desert, including climbing Everest 2 times - by the South face in 2013 and North face in 2017. I also love diving and have dived in all the oceans with the biggest predators.
In parallel, I am a producer of audio-visual content and have already produced work for the Globo programs "Fantástico" and "Esporte Espetacular" in Brazil, and I have worked as a presenter and guide for the reality shows "Celebrities' Challenge" and "Extreme Mission" on the Discovery Channel.
For more than four years I have been trying to realize my dream of climbing K2, which is considered to be the most difficult and dangerous mountain to climb on Earth. The first year I couldn't do it because of work commitments, the next year through a lack of sponsorship, and then once again it was not possible as I became very ill after being bitten by a tick. But when you have had a desire for such a long time, you don't give up easily!
The expedition to K2 wasn't easy for me, either physically or mentally. As already mentioned, for most of 2018 I was battling the tick-borne Lyme disease, which is transmitted by the bite of a tick infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, and for which I still have to take medications. As it turned out though, I hardly felt the effects of the disease during the climb, probably because of the decreasing oxygen levels during the ascent - I think perhaps the Borrelia didn't like the lack of oxygen!
K2 is a truly beautiful mountain, very impressive, and one that I was always drawn to, maybe because it represents every challenge a climber expects and more. It is situated in the Karakoram mountain range, which is an extension of the Himalayan mountains, and it sits on the borders between Pakistan and China. K2 has been dubbed “The Wild Mountain,” and one in five of the climbers who have attempted to reach its summit have died.
K2 is located in a place so remote and inaccessible that it was only discovered by scientific mapping in 1904, and was only climbed for the first time 50 years later, by an Italian team. In 2000, Waldemar Niclevicz became the first and only Brazilian to have ever reached the summit of K2, and subsequently, I became only the 2nd Brazilian and the 1st Brazilian woman to successfully reach the top.
In all the expedition took a total of 50 days. We first made our way to a local community called Askole, home to just 200 inhabitants and a place that can only be reached using 4x4 vehicles. Then came eight days of trekking through Pakistani villages and completely inhospitable regions to reach the base camp. This involved walking 120 kilometers along an extremely complex trail of ice, snow, glacial sediment, rocks, small deserts and rivers. K2 is definitely not the type of place where you get tired and decide to go home!
We then began the 1st cycle of acclimatization, followed by 4-5 days rest. Acclimatization is extremely important for the body to begin to adapt to the high altitude and prevent more serious side effects. At this time you are submitting your body to a low oxygen environment, and so, your bone marrow understands that it needs to produce more red blood cells to carry the little oxygen that is available.
K2 is not a place for beginners and it is the mind that works the hardest in this situation. In high altitude mountains, 20% of success is physical, and the rest is psychological. In mountains like K2, you deal with a high risk of death, little communication and not much to do, and this can seriously affect your mind.
Consequently, my climbing partner Maximo Kausch and I tried to look upon the expedition with a positive vibe, and without placing pressure on ourselves. Obviously we had concerns, but we tried to do everything calmly, waiting to see what would happen... if we made it - great! If not, that was fine too... We knew the expedition was much more than just the summit. We passed through beautiful landscapes, and saw completely unknown mountains, and this is worth a lot.
We set off for out attempt on the summit at dawn on the 17th July, accompanied by 118 other climbers. But as we were nearing the top on this same day, an avalanche swept down the mountain, injuring a Sherpa and sweeping away two of the fixed ropes needed to continue the rest of the ascent. The mission had to be aborted and everyone returned to base camp. The avalanche meant that of the 120 climbers who would have attempted the summit this season, only 18 decided to continue on with the mission.
After this first attempt to reach the summit, I began to feel that my lungs were feeling a bit wet, namely, the beginning of pulmonary edema, which is common at such extreme altitudes. In mountain medicine, the first medicines to use in this case are Nifedipine, and then Viagra, as they help the vessels in the lungs to relax, preventing the contraction caused by the lack of oxygen and as a consequence, pulmonary hypertension.
Despite feeling exhausted, just 2 days after reaching the base camp we decided to attempt to reach the summit again in another time window that emerged. After all, it could be the last opportunity, as in general, K2 does not give many chances to reach the top in a season.
Persistence, in this case, was the key to our success, and on the 25th of August, exactly one month since our arrival at the mountain, we succeeded in reaching the summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world, at an altitude of 8,611 meters. As with nearly everything in life, reaching the end goal involves a series of events leading up to it, and our expedition was filled with stories, things learnt and adventures, and above all, the sweet sensation of having fulfilled another dream!
I have to thank wholeheartedly the sponsors of my K2 expedition - Volvo Cars, Pulsar Invest, John John, Outback Steakhouse, and Gillette Venus. And support from Canon, GoPro HERO7, Spot, Puma and The North Face. I am eternally grateful to them for believing in this dream and in my potential.
MSc Space Physiology & Health; Human Performance Intern, McLaren Applied Technologies
With international space agencies and the real-life Tony Stark (Elon Musk) making huge advances in rocket technology, it is likely that within the next couple of decades humankind will touch down on Mars. However, this is only half the battle. The gravity on Mars is roughly one third as strong as Earth’s. You may be thinking “great, everything will require less effort”, and you’d be right, however, there is a huge caveat to that. As we’ve found from the results of time spent in space (the longest continuous period being 14.4 months), when people are exposed to levels of gravity lower than that on Earth, losses in muscle and bone occur; predominantly, in muscles which we continually use to walk and maintain our posture. You may have heard the expression ‘use it or lose it’ - hugely applicable here. These losses can increase astronauts’ risk of injury when returning to Earth by leaving them very weak and fragile. A return mission to Mars will take around 3 YEARS to complete, mainly because of the wait for the two planets to be close enough in proximity again to allow a relatively short journey home. That’s around 12 months in microgravity and around 26 months in Martian gravity. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that, based on the numbers, the outlook for muscle retention isn’t great. That being said, we‘re still pretty uninformed about the extent to which living on Mars will stimulate our muscles.
Recently, my colleagues and I conducted an investigation to try to shed some light on the matter. To do this properly, we needed to achieve two key things: 1) simulate walking in Mars gravity, 2) measure the activity in the muscles used for walking. With this, we compared the muscle activity produced while walking on Mars to that produced when walking on Earth, gauging the degree of muscle loss that we might expect for a mission to Mars and to inform countermeasures.
To simulate Mars gravity, we used a technique called lower body positive pressure (LBPP). There are a few different ways in which you can simulate partial gravity environments, but this one has fewer limitations than the rest. LBPP involves putting someone inside an air-tight inflatable box from the waist down. Through manipulation of the air pressure within, it can generate a lifting force, changing the weight of the person inside. Our device was designed and built by engineers at the John Ernsting Aerospace Physiology Laboratory at the Pontificia Universidade do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. With a treadmill placed underneath, the participant could then walk in simulated Mars gravity. To measure the amount of activity inside the leg muscles, we then attached electrodes to the skin at each of the muscles we were interested in (a method called electromyography) which picked up an electrical signal that muscles give off when they are being worked. The more intense the signal, the more active that muscle is while walking.
What we found was quite unexpected. The results of our investigation suggested that there was no significant difference between the muscle activity observed while walking in Mars gravity and the muscle activity observed walking on Earth. If this were to be true, then it would not be foolish to think that we could use the 26 months on the Martian surface to reverse losses in muscle and bone suffered on the outward journey in preparation for the return trip. However, there were two important variables that we failed to account for in our experiment. These variables were stride length and stride frequency when walking.
The moon is smaller than Mars, and so there is even less gravity there, but the same principle applies. With this in mind, even if the results of our experiment were to be true and the walking muscles are getting just as much activity with each step on Mars as they are on Earth, theoretically, they will be used less often. Considering our ‘use it or lose it’ principle, this would still mean muscle and bone loss to a disabling degree in the absence of effective counter strategies; which are currently lacking. More studies need to be done around this area, accounting for all variables, to further our understanding of human performance on Mars and ensure the safety of our astronauts, or we’ll be keeping Elon Musk waiting at the launch pad!