The negative effects on the human musculoskeletal system of spending prolonged periods of time in a reduced gravity environment are well known and documented. Astronauts in space suffer a loss of bone and muscle mass, especially in the lower extremities, which they try to counteract by exercising for at least 2 hours a day while in space. The Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) is a complex piece of equipment on the International Space Station that is especially designed to provide a resistive type of exercise that helps astronauts maintain muscle mass. You can imagine that this equipment would have taken a lot of time and money to develop and validate, requiring the skills of a team of biomedical engineers and physiologists. However, you don't have to be a NASA engineer or have a PhD to come up with a good idea, as borne out by the creative mind of Frank Calvin, former US marine and law-enforcement officer, who recently sent us a video of his patented exercise harness. We liked the simplicity and effectiveness of his idea, so we thought we would throw open today's blog to Frank from Warren, Ohio!
"IF IT WORKS IN WATER IT WILL WORK IN SPACE" - says Frank Calvin
Imagine wearing a 30lb backpack and jumping into the deep end a swimming pool - you will sink like a rock! But wear the harness and jump into the deep end of the pool. and you will stay afloat as normal, but when treading water or doggy paddling, the quads and lower back are immediately being worked and the 25-30lb of pressure remains on the core system. All movements mentioned can be made in a weightless environment.
In conclusion, I submit that muscle mass can be GAINED, along with prevention of bone density loss in microgravity with the aid of this harness, which is low-cost, light and easy to use!
From an InnovaSpace point of view, it certainly does seem to be a very simple and low-cost idea, and it would probably be interesting if the harness could form part of a research project conducted inside and outside of water in order to validate the system and define its effectiveness. We congratulate Frank on his idea and wish him well for the future of his device!
Authors: Kids from the STEP Computer Academy
And InnovaSpace Admin Director - Mary Upritchard
Over the last few months, InnovaSpace's very own space doctor, Thais Russomano, has been listening to some of the First Lego League tournament teams talking about the projects they have developed for this year’s Into Orbit mission, answering their questions and giving some tips as to areas they might also consider. The annual competition has teams taking part from all over the world (92 different countries this year), adopting a different theme each time linked to robotics and the STEM areas, and aimed at encouraging young students to improve critical thinking and team-building skills, stimulating their creativity and giving the opportunity to present their projects in public in front of judges. As part of this year’s competition, students have been thinking about ways to improve the life, health and wellbeing of astronauts in space, with some really constructive and original ideas being contemplated by these bright young minds.
We were approached by teams from the STEP Computer Academy in Seattle USA a little while back, with great questions they had about their projects. With Thais having given them some feedback, we were delighted to hear recently that 3 of the 5 Into Orbit teams from the academy had made it through to the semi-finals of their national competition, and we are even more delighted now to be able to present three short texts from those teams:
Hello! We are the Galaxy Rulers – a fun and hardworking FIRST LEGO league team from Bellevue, Washington, USA. Our team consists of 8 teammates: Adam, Felix, Owen, Princeton, Urvi, Vanesha, Varshini, and Vedika. We are working on a project to reduce health problems like homesickness in long-term space missions like the Mars 100 mission—Mars colonization project. After getting assistance and opinions from experts and doing research, we came to a solution.
Astronauts can benefit from reminders of home to fight homesickness, so we decided to use plants. Plants can remind astronauts of Earth and beautiful nature. Our solution is totally innovative, as we are using customized plants that the astronauts are familiar with or it is their state flower or plant. We hope that our solution will solve real-world problems in the future.
WE ARE THE GALAXY RULERS
WE MEASURE THE GALAXY!
Hello everyone! We are The Titans! We are a First LEGO League team from Bellevue, WA, USA!
We have 8 teammates: Nikita, Irina, Ayush, Amish, Neev, Amish, Henry, and Liam.
We are working on a project that helps astronauts cope with stress in space. We did research and talked to experts, and found out that astronauts experience a lot of stress on the ISS. A solution to that is to create a relaxation method that will help astronauts reduce stress while working in space.
We are working on a relaxation booth that will address various astronauts’ senses. We propose a relaxation booth that will have real plants inside, relaxation music and a variety of calming scents.
Hi there! We are a First LEGO League team called Space Pirate Pickles!
We are from Bellevue, Washington, United States and we have six members on our team: Liam, Tony, Koden, Hanming, Michael and Vishnu.
Our project is to find new ways to protect astronauts from the space radiation when on long-term space missions. According to our research, such non-technical and easily accessible things like vitamins (D, E, C etc.), iodine-based foods, plants (aloe vera, cactuses), placebos and acupuncture can add to the protection from space radiation. So to solve this problem, we suggest combining non-technical and technical solutions (e.g. thermos-nuclear rockets).
We believe the problem of space radiation will be solved and we will be able to safely (health-wise) travel to far away planets.
We also want to add that First LEGO League has been a great learning experience. FLL journey is all about discovery, learning something new every day, cooperating sharing what we learned with others.
Many InnovaSpace congratulations to the teams from the STEP computer academy, and to all the teams who have taken part in this prestigious tournament - you are all stars!
Wishing the very best of luck to the Galaxy Rulers, The Titans, and the Space Pirate Pickles for their semi-final presentations, and to the many other teams in their national competitions all around the world - ad astra!
Dr. Kushal Madan
Cardiac Rehabilitation Consultant, Dept. of Cardiology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital New Delhi India
Here on Earth our arterial blood pressure values are set by the pumping action of our heart and by the resistance of our arteries to blood flow, known as peripheral resistance.
Haemodynamics, or the flow of blood in our circulatory system can be summarised as:
The question is though, what happens to blood pressure in Space? How does the microgravity environment that the human body experiences in the ‘weightlessness’ of space affect it?
Weightlessness during spaceflight immediately leads to a shift of blood and body fluids from the lower to the upper part of the body. As the central blood volume increases, there is an increase in cardiac output. But the head-to-foot blood pressure gradient that exists on Earth is removed, thereby dilating the arterial resistance vessels and reducing systemic vascular resistance.
In the space environment, simultaneous to the increased cardiac output, arterial blood pressure either remains the same or is slightly decreased. So, what is the reason for the systemic vasodilatation leading to a reduction in blood pressure in space? Are these changes short-term or do they persist throughout the spaceflight? In 1996 Fritsch-Yelle et al. concluded that there was a decrease of 5 mmHg in diastolic blood pressure and no change in systolic blood pressure, as measured by ambulatory brachial blood pressure monitoring using a portable equipment over the 2 weeks of a spaceflight.
Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) is a continuous blood pressure recording over a 24-hr period to assess the pattern of variability in arterial blood pressure during rest and exercise. ABPM can detect circadian changes, such as nocturnal dipping and morning surge. According to the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association 2017 guidelines, a normotensive patient should have a daytime ABPM <120/80 mm Hg, and a night time ABPM < 100/65 mm Hg. This technique can also pick up on the variations in arterial blood pressure due to different environmental and emotional changes, and it can overcome the disadvantages of manual arterial blood pressure recording, such as white coat hypertension.
The use of this technique in aerospace applications has provided valuable information regarding the mechanisms of blood pressure regulation. Another important use of this method of arterial blood pressure monitoring is in assessing the effectiveness of countermeasures applied to reduce the adverse effect of weightlessness on the cardiovascular system. Initial studies conducted on astronauts have shown that ambulatory blood pressure equipment can detect the increase and decrease of blood pressure before, during and after spaceflight. Therefore, it would seem that these ABPM devices have a very useful role to play in detecting the blood pressure changes that occur during the stressful and hostile situations found during space missions.
InnovaSpace Scientific & Strategic Consultant.
On November 21st and 22nd, 2018 I had the pleasure of visiting the laboratory of Prof. Nandu Goswami, at the Medical University of Graz, in Austria. Nandu is an Associate Professor at the university, interim head of the Division of Physiology and Head of the Gravitational Physiology and Medicine research unit. The main areas of study of his research group are cardiovascular physiology, cerebral auto-regulation and space/gravitational physiology, especially using Earth-based models of space flight.
Cardiovascular alterations encountered during space missions, such as a reduction in central venous pressure, cardiac atrophy and decreased vascular responsiveness to standing are major concerns for astronauts during and after spaceflight. On Earth, the ageing process is also linked to physiological deconditioning of the cardiovascular system, which creates a parallel with the changes in human physiology secondary to weightlessness exposure. At the Gravitational Physiology and Medicine research unit, bed rest studies are used as a ground-based simulation of microgravity to further understand the effects of deconditioning, both for the elderly on Earth and astronauts in space. This is also an area of special interest for InnovaSpace Advisor Joan Vernikos, who conducted similar research at NASA for many years and has published scientific articles and books on the topic.
InnovaSpace congratulates Nandu for his work, which is a very interesting area of research and can be seen as a good example of technological and knowledge transfer from space to Earth. Together with the InnovaSpace team, I hope we can one day collaborate with Prof. Goswami and his group in Graz.
InnovaSpace Scientific & Strategic Consultant.
In this month of November I have joined the University of Eastern Piedmont (Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale Amedeo Avogadro - UPO) to lecture BSc students on basic and applied research in regenerative medicine and tissue regeneration, MSc candidates on innovations in medical biotechnologies, and PhD candidates on bone and cartilage tissue bioengineering. These courses are very much in line with my own three-pronged professional interests: basic and applied research, educational projects/programs, and technology transfer from academia to the market.
With different degrees of depth, the main purpose of these courses is to provide students with a concrete understanding of complex biological systems, studied at the molecular, cellular and physiological levels (and especially related to humans), to equip them with practical knowledge of state-of-the-art biotechnological protocols used in the medical field, and to guide them on developing communications and networking skills in order to cooperate in multidisciplinary, multifaceted teams. The ultimate goal is to prepare them so they will be able to quickly fit into the working environment, at national, European and extra-European levels after graduation.
The UPO is quite new. It was established in 1998, in the towns of Novara, Alessandria and Vercelli, in the Italian region of Piedmont, bordering France, Switzerland and the Alps. On the other hand, it also has an illustrious and very traditional ancestry. It originated from 7 faculties that belonged to the University of Turin, one of the oldest universities in history, established in 1404. Within this unique setting, UPO researchers, lecturers and students benefit from the best of both worlds: the old, permeated with lessons from history and with time-tested solutions, and the new, charged with flexibility, plasticity and adaptability to the ever-changing world that we live in.
In line with this conception, the university has created a smart ambiance to encourage synergistic collaborations between researchers, lecturers and scholars. Additionally, what I can sense is that the best and brightest students can fit in effortlessly and find it very easy to benefit from this milieu. Lastly, but equally as important (especially for non-European students looking to improve their CVs with solid international experience), UPO actively promotes international collaboration and encourages international students to apply to their various academic programs (many of them delivered in English).
I hope the students enjoy my talks as much as I am enjoying giving them. To learn more about UPO, please access "https://www.uniupo.it/" and to learn more about international applications, visit "https://www.uniupo.it/".
A few members of the InnovaSpace team had the pleasure of meeting up in September this year in the beautiful city of Lisbon. Although primarily for work purposes linked to the launch of the Space Network (Rede Espaço) at the University of Lisbon, we must NEVER forget to mix a little pleasure wherever the opportunity presents itself - and as you will see from the photos, we had fun in Lisbon too!
Picturesque Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is one of the oldest cities in Europe, full of history, culture, and great food. The traditional dish bacalhau (codfish) is famous and has to be tried, while for lovers of something a little sweeter, the pastéis de Belém (a type of egg custard tart) are legendary and were originally made by monks of the Jerónimos Monastery using a secret recipe. As many of these mouth-watering tarts were eaten in our time in Lisbon, it seemed only fitting that we should also visit their place of invention! The former monastery dates back to 1495 and is well worth a visit, especially on a sunny day, and it was from there that Dr. Joan Vernikos, former NASA Director of Life Sciences recorded the few words below, encouraging young people to consider following a career in space research - there couldn't have been a more beautiful setting!
One of the first ethnographies I read when beginning my Social Anthropology Master’s degree course was Beamtimes and Life Times: The World of High Energy Physicists (1988), by Sharon Traweek. She based this seminal account on her five years of fieldwork within the almost exclusively male domain of particle physicists, studying their culture, cosmology and worldview. One fascinating aspect that she underlines is the peculiar relationship that exists between these scientists and the accelerators and detectors they use to identify subatomic particles and understand their behaviour. The accelerators are some of the largest machines built and a great part of the scientist’s life is spent inside them: hence, not just a machine, but a place. Inside these accelerators are placed the detectors, each designed and crafted by a group of scientists to find answers to their specific research questions: not just a machine, but a conceptual and intellectual fingerprint. A new particle found may unveil a big mystery about the universe and catapult a scientist to academic stardom, however, it could also prove the whole hypothesis to have been built on a misguided assumption and thus, failure. As cosmologies and careers are at stake and the data collected may promote a paradigm shift, the detectors hold the hope of access to a hidden world. Therefore, they are more like portals than machines.
There is a same high dependency on machines in space science in order to access far away or invisible events and data, and this steered my attention toward human/non-human relationships in this context. This dichotomy itself is rather a cultural construct, and in some cultures this line is not clearly defined and is variable according to the cultural context, being more or less defined in certain places at certain times. In the context of space science, it becomes even more blurred. When applied to an astronaut, for instance, this concept tends not to make sense. In fact, an astronaut only becomes an astronaut in conjunction with the spacesuit/spacecraft, or they would be unable even to reach space to become a space-traveller. In this sense, you do not have simply the human (astronaut) and the non-human (spacesuit, spacecraft), but one single entity. An astronaut is inexorably a cyborg: a hybrid of organism and machine.
The close relationship of dependency between the human and non-human in space science tracks back to the 17th century, when Galileo Galilei was the first to use instruments, another specific kind of non-human, to enhance the vision and turn the invisible visible. It was a humble telescope compared to Hubble, which has already “seen” galaxies 13 billion years away, however it was able to spot the four biggest Jovian moons and the rings of Saturn. That instrument was responsible for a paradigm shift, as it provided empirical evidence to legitimate the heliocentric model offered by Copernicus the century before.
Since then, the cosmos has become ever closer and more familiar. The big boost was the beginning of the space program, when engineering masterpieces began to be developed and were sent out into our cosmic neighbourhood in a quest for further answers about the origins and constituents of our solar system and the universe. These satellites, spacecraft, rovers and other robotic equipment do not belong to the same category as the ordinary, factory-produced machinery that fill the lives of most Westerners, machines that make our lives easier. They are not produced on an industrial scale; instead, they are individual pieces, designed and crafted to mirror the scientist’s quest, possibly one to which they have dedicated their entire lifetime. Anyone not familiar with this scientific culture might think of all this astronautic paraphernalia as simply being pieces of metal, in a similar way to any other machine; however, this is not the case.
These machines are the scientists’ allies in outer space, “who” have been conducting fieldwork outside Earth and on behalf of the humans that built and invested in them with actions, knowledge, expectations and aims. They become the augmented extensions of humans, allowing them to reach places where the presence of people is prohibited due to the distance and inherent hurdles and dangers. And as this contingent of non-humans keeps growing and probing further into outer space, our knowledge of the universe keeps expanding and paradigms continue shifting. These machines underline the creativity and ingenuity of humans on the one hand, while also highlighting our limitations on the other. United together, however, some limitations can be circumvented.
It is due to the findings of this contingent of non-human aiders on whom scientists bestow their expertise that we now know a lot more about the material and immaterial cosmic context in which we live. Until very recently, scientists continued to contemplate whether water existed on other worlds or if it might be an Earthly exclusivity. Nonetheless, data gathered by the many probes sent into orbit and those landing on other cosmic bodies suggest that water is rather universal. Evidence of water molecules has already been found on the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, comets and other satellites like Europa and Encedalus, which orbit Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, and are believed to have liquid oceans beneath their icy crust. One of the main goals of current and future space exploration is to find out about the existence of alien life in the universe, either intelligent or not. As water is fundamental to life as we know it, these discoveries fuel the hope of finding life elsewhere in the universe. Further unmanned missions will be sent to gather more data. Additionally, since the early 1990s with the help of powerful telescopes like the Kepler space telescope, there has been the discovery of thousands of other planets outside our solar system, and the hunt for Earth-like planets orbiting a star in a habitable zone or ones suitable to be terraformed has already begun.
Our dependence on these machines to obtain data that provides information about the unknown and the invisible to the naked eye is so high and intertwined that it defies the limits of human/non-human relationships. In 2017, after orbiting Saturn and its moons for 13 years, the Cassini space probe dived to its death on the planet’s surface after running out of fuel, and a documentary entitled Goodbye Cassini, Hello Juno was launched to celebrate its “lifetime” of achievements. From inception to end this mission lasted 20 years, and comments made about the spacecraft by crewmembers that were interviewed when gathered at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) headquarters for the “funeral” showed that it was far more than just a machine. They were clearly all deeply grieving the loss of Cassini, treating it as if it were a person who had just passed away. Athena Coustenis, an astronomer and planetary scientists who developed one of the 12 instruments onboard, stated that “Cassini will be getting and sending data till its last breath…I’m going to cry my eyes out. It is a 20 year old friend”. For her part, Julie Webster, in charge of remotely managing the spacecraft for JPL, said the most difficult period of flying an aircraft is the first three years “because you are kind of learning what makes the personality of the spacecraft”. Indeed, Cassini showed itself to have an obedient and flawless character: “It was a great spacecraft, it did exactly what we asked it to do. All the way to the end. No surprises”, concluded Webster. The words used to refer to it, such as breath, personality and friend, clearly showed there was a relationship involving affection and trust, and that Cassini was considered a kind of human being.
Cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin echoes this form of affection for the Russian space station MIR, where he spent 185 days onboard. In the documentary MIR Mortals (1998), addressing the hurdles faced by the crew in its final months, Lazukin explains the emotions felt at the final moment of its decommissioning. When the dot that represented it disappeared from the ground control screen, he said, “It was as if someone had died. And it wasn’t just me feeling that, everyone who worked on it did. It was like burying a good friend”, adding that nobody thought of it as “just pieces of metal”. If in their perception MIR died, then we can assume that it was considered to be alive. This makes perfect sense given that space stations are self-contained Earth analogue environments, on which astronaut lives depend and that offer a unique perspective of what it means to be human in an extra-terrestrial context.
The robotic heralds that Western societies have been launching into space have collaborated in cosmological paradigm shifts and offered new possibilities for the future of terrestrial beings in alien worlds. If one day this becomes a reality, in keeping with the plans of the leading space agencies and even private space companies, the line between human/non-human will make even less sense, since to be human in this new context will imply permanently having/wearing non-human extensions. The line will then become irreversibly blurred.
InnovaSpace thanks Dr. T V Gopal for bringing attention to the use of drone technology in healthcare. The popularity of drones has been boosted greatly over the past decade, with huge advances in technology leading to drone weight reductions, lower costs, and improved capabilities and performance, particularly through the introduction of an autopilot, and softwares capable of analysing flight dynamics in real-time and ensuring flight stability. We publish here some of his thoughts related to the Integration Challenges of Healthcare and Technology with Drones.
The art of healing, the healing process itself, started with quaint symbolisms. The concepts of "Uniformity in Practice" and "Repeatability of a Cure" gradually emerged as the two dominant principles in Medical Sciences, and the development of new technologies promises to meet the expectations on both these principles.
However, the integration between technology and medicine is not a simple task. It is believed that the key enablers for this integration to happen are:
What an individual actually thinks and the creation of a memory might be recreated by the use of software algorithms that generate images based on recorded brain activity. This might sound like science fiction, but it is not. It is a reality for millions of patients worldwide for whom mind-controlled technology has been of great help to move paralyzed limbs.
It is a fact that scientists have been detecting brainwaves for more than a century, and this knowledge in recent years has been applied in the development of drone technologies, in which they are controlled by people’s thoughts. This might give a different shape to the relationship between medicine and medical technology.
In the words of Dr. Alexis Carrel, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912, in recognition of his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs, he said: “It is certain that a thought may be transmitted from one individual to another, even if they are separated by long distance. These facts, which belong to the new science of metaphysics, must be accepted just as they are… They express a rare and almost unknown aspect of ourselves… What extraordinary penetration would result from the union of disciplined intelligence and of the telepathic aptitude”.
The tagline of the InnovaSpace Valentina project is ‘Science is for girls too!’ – an ideal we very much support, and an excellent example of which is Space Physiologist, Dr. Julia Attias, who is a PhD Researcher at King's College London.
I had the pleasure of meeting Julia a few years ago when she was doing her Master’s degree in Space Physiology and Health (2012) at King’s College London, which then led on to her completing a PhD in Space Physiology (2018). Julia is passionate about inspiring young ladies to pursue a career in the STEM areas, and dedicates some of her time to writing blogs for websites such as WISE (Women In Science and Engineering), and a charity, GlamSci, aimed at breaking down perceived stereotypes and barriers to STEM areas. We asked Julia a few questions about her life and path to becoming a space physiologist:
What sort of child were you?
I can say I was a very energetic child and very focused on sports activities from a very early age. My Mum was a tennis coach, so from about the age of about 4 years old, I could be found running around a tennis court, gripping my first racquet in hand, on which someone had spray-painted the letter ‘J’. Naturally enough by the time I started school my favourite subject was PE (physical education), at which I was always very competitive indeed!
What were your school years like?
I was lucky enough to go to great schools; I enjoyed my school years and made some good friends. At primary school I sometimes used to get in trouble for talking too much, but in fact it wasn’t just idle chatter for the sake of it, it was my constant curiosity about anything and everything that made me ask questions and comment out loud - too loud sometimes!
I loved music (probably inspired by my Dad who was a drummer) and being in plays at primary school, and continued this on into my teenage years when I joined the Pineapple Performing Arts School in Covent Garden. I learned street dance, singing and acting there, and grew up wanting to be in front of the camera - this ambition I have since achieved through participating in a Discovery Channel series called 'Meet The SuperBrains' and more recently in the Channel 4 series 'Food Unwrapped''.
What sparked your interest in science?
Through all my sporting activity, the idea that humans are designed to move around was embedded in me from a very young age. I would run around the tennis court and wonder why my heart beat so much faster, curious about the mechanisms involved within our body that allow us to run and jump, and improve our endurance and strength. In PE we began to have lessons about sports theory and I soon realised that science was a field of study that could answer some of my questions, whilst at the same time posing so many more questions that still required responses. This hooked my interest and I began to enjoy the triple sciences at high school, especially biology, as I could learn more about how the human body functions. This really did direct the path of my career as I then went on to take a sports science degree at university.
How did you jump from sports to space science?
I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘space-geek’ and I never started off with the intention of a career in space science. I was never drawn to watching sci-fi programs on TV or films, like Star Wars or Star Trek, but what I really found interesting when I did my degree was learning about how the body functions in extreme environments, and you can’t really get more of an extreme environment than being up in Space! Quite by chance I found out that King’s College do a Master’s degree in Space Physiology and Health, and so I jumped at the chance of doing in, and the rest is history! There is an overlap between sports science and space physiology because of the fundamental scientific concepts that exist between them, but there are many other science disciplines you can study where you will also find this overlap, for example nutrition, medicine, pharmacy, engineering, physiotherapy, and many, many more.
What advice would you give to girls who are at school right now?
Don’t be put off by the STEM subjects at school and try to study some of them. You might have no idea at the moment what career you want to follow, but if you have some of the core subjects there it will always help you, as they always overlap with so many other areas.
Don’t be put off by stereotypes of the sciences and engineering being only for boys – times are changing and will continue to change. As a woman in the area of space science, I have to admit that I still see far fewer women than men when I look around the conference room of a scientific congress, however, I don’t see this as a negative - I see it as a golden opportunity for me to make my mark and to help change attitudes for the future generation.
Try to find something you feel passionate about – this will fill you with the motivation you need to work hard, be determined, and succeed.
And to finish off a few random questions...
Blog author, Dr. K Ganapathay is a Past President of the Telemedicine Society of India, Neurological Society of India & Indian Society for Stereotactic & Functional Neurosurgery. Emeritus Professor, Tamilnadu Dr MGR Medical University, he has 43 YEARS of clinical experience. He is on the Board of Directors of Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation and Apollo Telehealth Services – the largest and oldest multi specialty telehealth network in South Asia, an Advisory Board member of InnovaSpace, and recognised as a staunch advocate par excellence in promoting telehealth.
For more details see www.kganapathy.com.
I am thankful to Prof. Thais Russomano, Space doctor, for rekindling my dormant interest in outer space. 11 years ago I started taking my grandson to the terrace in my house and repeatedly showed him the moon and said "I want you to work there as a doctor". Who knows? This may actually happen in my life time.
As a 'Made in India', totally indigenous product, who has worked only in India, I am absolutely thrilled to learn about INDIA’S FIRST MANNED SPACE MISSION - Gaganyaan, scheduled for launch in December 2021.
The mission, which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech, is set to be a turning point in space history, as it will make India one of only four countries in the world, after Russia, USA and China, to launch a manned space flight.
The plan involves sending three Indians into space for 5 to 7 days on a Low-Earth-Orbit mission (altitude of 300-400 km). At 27,000 km/h, a spacecraft completes an orbit around the Earth every 90 minutes. Costing within 1.5 billion US$, this 40-month project will employ 15,000 individuals, including 13,000 from industries and 1,000 from academic institutes – and of course, Indians!! Vyomanuts (Indian astronauts) for this mission are likely to be selected from 200 shortlisted Indian Air Force pilots, with just 4 being selected and trained. The best among the superhuman test pilots will get the golden ticket. On the seventh day after launch, the crew module will re-orient and separate itself from the service module, landing on Earth within 36 minutes, in the Arabian Sea, close to Ahmedabad.
One of the six largest space agencies in the world with the largest fleet of communication (INSAT) and remote sensing (IRS) satellites, ISRO has already developed most of the technologies required for manned flight. In 2018, it performed a Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment and Pad Abort Test for the mission, while the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) has already worked on producing space food, and has been conducting trials on astronaut G-suits
Most governments are averse to taking risks. It is a sign of the times that a popular government, in an emerging economy is willing to invest effort, time and money in what would, as a knee jerk response by many, be considered “preposterous”. One has to have the foresight that early investments in space would indeed be a differentiator. There are incredible resources out there. The moon has sufficient helium to power the entire globe. We will soon have an energy crisis and we are depleting all of our resources here on Earth. Whoever controls the valuable resources found in space will perhaps control the world. Unless goals are set, we will never get there. As the late chairman of ISRO Prof. U R Rao once remarked “...a government’s approach is to avoid all failures, but sometimes we need failures to push the boundaries”. Space law (spearheaded by the US) at present mandates that the natural resources found in space can be owned but not the place itself — like catching fish at sea. This has encouraged the pursuit of space business and millions of dollars have come in from private players. Today, if one finds a rock with valuable materials (precious metals like gold/platinum), it is yours.
India is indeed a paradox. We have centres of excellence better than the best. We no longer talk of achieving world class, and indeed, in several disciplines, the world talks of achieving India class! It is true that we have a long long way to go. Internationally, an income of less than $1.90 per day per head of purchasing power parity is defined as extreme poverty. By this estimate, about 12% to 15% of 1.3 million Indians are extremely poor. Are we justified in denying millions of people good drinking water to satisfy an “ego trip”? In my view the answer is a resounding Yes.
How else would you explain a billion plus mobile phones in the country. We are in a stage of transition. As Lloyd C Douglas remarked “this too will pass”. The future is always ahead of schedule. The Gaganyaan mission when (not if !) successfully executed will have untold spin-offs impossible to quantitatively qualify. It will show every one of us, that the ISRO culture of meritocracy can be imbibed by everyone, that minute attention to the nitty gritty in everyday life is doable, that failure is not an option.
Manned space missions do pose health risks pre-, during and post-flight for crew members onboard a spacecraft or station. There are communication challenges for medical doctors monitoring them from the ground. Physical and mental changes related to adaptation to the space environment need to be monitored in real-time. Changes in clinical parameters and management of unexpected medical emergencies need to be addressed and prepared for. Removing the effect of Earth's gravitational force alters all organic functioning. Space motion sickness, characterised by impairment of performance, nausea, vomiting and a diffuse malaise, occurs in astronauts and lasts for the first 72 hours of a space mission. Normal process of bone formation and resorption is disturbed. All of these aspects still require further study and understanding, and perhaps the Gaganyaan mission can also inspire and motivate Indian researchers to address these issues.
For the last few years in all my talks I have been mentioning that India no longer follows the West. We no longer piggy back. We don’t even leap frog. After all how much can a frog leap! We pole vault!! A few years ago, President Obama warned American doctors that if they “don’t wake up” more Americans will start going to India for health care because it is cheap there. Indian doctors protested. They said in one voice “Mr. President, they don’t come to India to save a few thousand dollars. They come to India because our outcomes are as good as any of your hospitals. We are inexpensive not cheap!!
Just one more comment of interest...
Dr. K. Sivan, Chairman ISRO, within hours of the Prime Minister’s announcement, disclosed the appointment of Dr. Lalithambika as the first Director of ISRO’s Human Space Programme. Going by the number of women in top positions at ISRO, it is obvious that, if there is gender discrimination at all, it is of the reverse type!! Speaks volumes that Indian women are second to none .