InnovaSpace Admin Director
With another year now drawn to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the two very successful InnovaSpace Kids2Mars events that took place in 2018 involving questions asked by children to crew members of Mars analogue missions, one with the MDRS Crew 185 in the Utah desert and the other with the Austrian Space Forum’s AMADEE-18 mission in the Dhofar desert in Oman.
In summary, 53 children from 33 different countries from around the world had the opportunity to ask anything they wanted about travelling to and life on Mars, and very interesting answers came back from analogue astronauts and crew members who spent their time isolated in desert regions, especially chosen for their similarities to the planet Mars.
Analogue astronauts on this type of mission in general have little spare time, as they are involved in many research activities, so we knew we could not bombard them with a mountain of questions. This in fact also linked well with our aims for the Kids2Mars project, which was to involve children from as many different countries as possible – quantity of countries rather than quantity of questions. With our tagline of Space Without Borders, this aspect was of prime importance, so an end result of 33 countries was very satisfying, especially so considering the diverse range of nations involved, such as Bolivia, Bulgaria, Iceland, Mongolia and Nepal. In fact, we had questions coming from countries in 6 of the 7 continents, just missing out on Antarctica, which for obvious reasons is a little more difficult!
It was interesting to hear how the name of the planet Mars, named after the Roman god of war, was pronounced in the various languages. Certainly, the sound of the word was the same or very similar to the English pronunciation in the majority of cases, however, there were a few exceptions, such as from China, Japan, Nepal, Libya and Indian Tamil. We have extracted the word Mars, where mentioned, from all of the children’s questions and with the invaluable help of our two collaborators from Italy, Fabio Pinna and Mario Mollo, created a short video – we hope you like it!
One thing that has become obvious from all the Kids2Mars activities we have conducted is how much the subject of space and space travel arouses curiosity, and how much the young people involved in the lectures and creative pursuits have done so with great enthusiasm and interest. In our view, this is exactly why outreach activities linked to Mars or the Moon or astronauts, in fact anything involving space, can be used as a tool to capture the attention and interest of children, motivating them to give more consideration to the STEM areas of education. Although the adults of today are laying and securing the foundations of human life in space, it is our children who will build on this to become the Space Generation, and perhaps in time, even future Mars colonisers!
InnovaSpace Admin Director
The InnovaSpace team send their wholehearted congratulations to the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) for the landing today (Thursday, 3rd January 2019) of their unmanned Chang'e-4 space probe on the far side of the Moon, the first spacecraft to ever land on the ‘dark side’. The probe landed exactly on target in the South Pole - Aitken Basin, which is the Moon's largest and oldest recognised impact crater.
A small lunar rover, called Yutu 2 or Jade Rabbit 2, descended from the lander onto the surface of the Moon, sending the first panoramic images of a landscape that has never been seen from the surface before. All being well, the rover will explore the terrain and perform a number of tasks, including the measurement of ground composition and the use of ground-penetrating radar to probe below the surface.
The first lunar low-frequency radio astronomy experiment will also be conducted, together with an exploration for evidence of water, and an attempt to grow potatoes in a mini biosphere, among other tasks, all of which could reveal much new and valuable information about the Earth's only permanent natural satellite.
"Since the far side of the moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it's an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can 'listen' to the deeper reaches of the cosmos," said Tongjie Liu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center for the CNSA.
China became only the third nation to carry out a lunar landing, after the United States and Russia, when it landed a previous lunar rover, Chang’e-3, on the near side of the Moon in December 2013. But Chinese ambitions go much further than landing rovers on the Moon, with reports that they aim to put astronauts on the Moon by 2036 (no human feet have stepped on the lunar surface since 13th December 1972, following the end of the American Apollo missions). Chinese sights are also focused on Mars, with its first Mars probe scheduled to carry out orbital and rover exploration around 2020, and further plans for a fully operational permanent space station by 2022.
Well done to everyone at the CNSA and we look forward to hearing more on the progress of the Chang'e-4 mission!
Explanatory point: The far side of the Moon is also known as ‘the dark side’, which is in fact an inaccurate description, as both hemispheres of the Moon receive just as much sunlight as each other. However, the far side can never be seen from Earth due to the Moon rotating at the same speed that it rotates around the Earth, which results in us always seeing the same side. In fact, the two sides of the Moon are actually quite different in appearance, as can be seen in the below images.
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.
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 .
Phil Carvil, PhD
MedTech Cluster Development Manager at STFC, and all-round fitness and Space fanatic!
As mentioned in my previous blog, my major area of interest is human physiology and how the human body responds to exercise stimulus, especially in extreme environments, such as in Space.
On Earth, right now as you sit, stand or walk around, you are being ‘loaded’ by gravity. Your body is designed and has developed to enable you to function on Earth. Your muscles and their deployment (larger muscles in the legs) are designed to let your resist the force of gravity. Your heart and its systems are designed to pump blood in response to signals of how your body is oriented, i.e. when you are laying down as opposed to standing up. The spine is curved in response to gravity. It’s amazing when you think about how much your body works just to maintain itself in gravity – now think about what happens in space when you have microgravity, which means very little gravity.
It is documented that when you are in low Earth orbit (microgravity) for extended periods of time your body adapts. Part of this response is to diminish some of the muscle and its functionality, especially in the lower limbs. When you think about it, this makes complete sense. You work your legs just getting out of bed in the morning – imagine if you didn’t even need to do that? When you undertake physical training, particularly resistance training you build those muscles, they get bigger, stronger in response to the change in demand placed upon them. These muscles need a reason to adapt and change - in microgravity without that demand or need, they atrophy, as they require a lot of energy to maintain. Without that need, the body in its own very efficient way changes. That is why exercise forms such a key component of astronaut training pre-, during and post-flight.
Astronauts receive the assistance of an incredible support team of physiologists, trainers, physiotherapists, scientists, doctors, psychologists, nurses, engineers and mission specialists (to name just a few). Specialist equipment has been designed to enable them to train in space, based on key exercise training modalities on the ground. For aerobic exercise they employ both cycling on a device called CEVIS (Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System), and treadmill-based walking/running on a modified treadmill that ‘pulls’ them on to the belt as they run COLBERT (Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill), otherwise they would not get that critical ‘contact’ time with the belt. It is that contact, that impact, that is so important for sending a mechanical signal through the body to enable adaptations to happen (see video below, courtesy of NASA).
Resistance training also forms a critical component of their training, providing a mechanical stimulus and signal to the body cells and systems. Normal weights as we use on Earth would not work in space without gravity, and therefore, a device is used that employs hydraulics to provide that resistance force, which can be modified for various exercises (ARED - Advanced Resistive Exercise Device). The principles of why an astronaut trains are the same in space as they are on Earth – to stay fit, healthy and functional. The only difference is how they do this, the greater imperative to undertake exercise and the insights gained.
We have learned so much about how the body changes in space from the astronauts that have remained there for periods of time, shaping our understanding of the human form, but also adding to our knowledge of how to keep it healthy. As we begin to think about establishing long-term habitats on other celestial bodies, such as Lunar or Martian habitats later this century, the same key questions about how we keep ourselves, fit, healthy and functional will be just as important to address. So the next time you’re undertaking a training session, be it a walk in the park, a group exercise session in the gym, or even just defying gravity, look up and think – someone up there is training too!
Department of Morphological Sciences, ICBS, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
The growing global interest in space programs, including space colonization strategies, will necessarily have to consider the reproductive process in outer space. Humans procreate through sexual reproduction, a near ubiquitous feature of living organisms on Earth. Furthermore, sexual reproduction is the fundamental strategy through which living organisms colonize new environments, as proven by Darwin´s theory of evolution. Successful colonization in a new niche represents the selection of adaptation-advantageous traits in well-adapted individuals and the elimination of those that do not express these advantageous characteristics. The individual advantageous/non-advantageous variability is achieved by new genetic combinations that occur during the formation of sex cells, a process called meiosis, which is unique and essential to sexual reproduction. In addition, the interaction between male and female gametes, leading to fertilisation and the creation of a new human being, is a critical feature of human reproduction.
Male and female sex cells must join together to form a new individual, the zygote, however, living circumstances in outer space may not provide favourable conditions for male and female gametes to join together naturally. In addition, the highly developed physiological mechanisms involved in human sexual reproduction may not be as effective when subject to a new environment, such as would be experienced if humans colonised another planet. Moreover, the effects of the high levels of radiation observed in space and microgravity on mammalian reproduction are largely unknown. In view of these difficulties and uncertainties, it is quite likely the use of assisted reproduction technologies, known as fertility treatment, will need to be considered for this fundamental issue of future lives spent in space stations or other planetary habitats.
#HumanFertility #FertilityInMicorgravity #AssistedConception
Gabriela Albandes de Souza
Culture & Education Project Manager, InnovaSpace
At first sight, anthropology and space exploration may seem to be two completely different fields with nothing or very little in common. When one thinks about space exploration, the most common associations are with disciplines such as engineering, physics, medicine, robotics, IT, and others related to the technology required for the endeavour and for keeping humans alive. On the other hand, anthropology is immediately associated with the study of non-Western, non-white and non-industrialised societies. Indeed, at its beginning as an independent academic discipline in the second half of the 19th century, it was very much about this, and only this. Nevertheless, as anthropology is ultimately interested in finding out what it means to be human and how people make sense of the world in the most diverse contexts, its research spectrum has gradually broadened. Nowadays, it embraces the study of any social group and its cultural idiosyncrasies, including scientists and astronauts.
Every single society has questioned what there is beyond Earth, the origins of the universe and all that it encompasses, including humankind, and each has found explanations to the unknown phenomena through specific modes of expertise. For some, the Cosmos was created by gods and is the home of powerful deities. Others, in a very specific context – Europe, 17th century – started to systematically study outer space using the emergent scientific methods and technological devices that augmented our senses, turned the invisible visible and went where humans could not. This very specific way of making sense of the world has profoundly changed the imaginary about the Cosmos in some societies and changed the way many people perceive and relate to the universe, to Earth and to all the species that live on our planet. Nowadays, in Western scientific cosmologies, the universe is thought to have been created by the Big Bang and to be ruled by natural laws, which can be translated in mathematical equations. Such a worldview is culturally embedded, therefore space exploration and scientists working on this project are subjects that concern anthropology.
Furthermore, since the 1970s, people have been living in space for increasingly longer periods of time and have been experiencing what it means to be human in a radically different context. Our sense of ‘being’ is inherently relational to our surroundings, the conditions presented by them and by those around us, which we take for granted here on Earth. Therefore, the experience of living in radically different conditions deeply affects our perspective, our senses and relationships — the “simple” fact that there is no gravity makes everything completely different. Since the International Space Station (ISS) began operating in 2000, this hybrid of dwelling/lab has been permanently inhabited by astronauts from different academic and cultural backgrounds, all of who must live together and cope with the extreme environment of outer space and the challenges it presents.
Wherever there are humans together there is social life and culture, and what it means to be human is embedded in this context, and therefore, astronauts consist of a very singular and interesting subject of research for the discipline. Moreover, space exploration is an endeavour that involves the participation of many people working together and sharing the same aims and worldview; its findings and achievements affect the lives of people on Earth; and future projects include the colonisation of other planetary bodies, furthering the human presence outside Earth and turning our species into an interplanetary one. Accordingly, space exploration is an issue that concerns not only hard and natural sciences, but also human and social sciences in general.
Although anthropologists from the 1960s onwards began to join the debate about space exploration issues, it is only in the last two decades that the subject has really become a part of the agenda of the discipline. Since then, a wider group of academics have been exploring the frontiers between outer space and anthropology, and carrying out fieldwork (the required method of research to get to know a culture in depth) among people whose activities are related to the area. These studies have become so prolific that nowadays there is a subfield informally called the Anthropology of Outer Space, which includes scholars such as John Traphagan, Lisa Messeri, Debbora Battaglia, David Valentine, Valerie Olson, Stephen Helmreich, Götz Hoeppe. Their contributions have shed light on the previously neglected areas of the human, social and cultural implications of exploring outer space, such as theories of possible ETs, asteroid mining, astrobiology, astronomical practices, life in space, fieldwork in analogue sites, multi-planet species and human/non-human relationships, and NewSpacers commercial activities, among others. As can be seen, this is an extensive and growing area, and one that deserves deeper exploration in a future blog highlighting some of these works.
Blog written by Dr. Joan Vernikos, InnovaSpace Advisory Board Member, former Director of Life Sciences NASA,
Founder of Thirdage llc, Culpeper VA, USA
The influence of gravity in human health on Earth has been grossly underestimated. Only through the experience of human spaceflight some 60 years ago did it become apparent that changes induced by living in the microgravity of space were not simply due to inactivity, as was originally thought. Unlike other variables like heat, cold or altitude, there is no evidence that the human body adapts to living with less or no gravity.
In fact, the longer humans are in space the faster the degenerative changes seem to occur, despite significant exercise and attempts at other countermeasures. With durations lasting six or more months and better diagnostic techniques, it can be seen that living in space accelerates tenfold the rate of decrease in bone density, when measured over the same time in the average population on Earth.
On Earth the effect of gravity is fairly straightforward. It pulls in one direction only, downward, towards the center of the Earth. Unlike plants, humans have the choice of orienting themselves relative to the force of gravity in every conceivable way and mostly in intermittent patterns. They also reduce gravity’s effects on the body during sleep at night or in continuous bed-rest when they are lying in bed. They can also enhance its force with various activities such as walking, running, jumping, bouncing on a trampoline or riding on a centrifuge. How we sense and use gravity determines our health and fitness. The most evident is that of loading, which imparts weight to the body when gravity is pulling in the head to foot direction (+Gz). We are aware of exertion against the force of gravity during normal activity of moving and walking. Gravity is obviously involved in postural and other changes in movement and direction, such as giving cues about our spatial orientation relative to gravity’s vertical pull. Without regular exposure to these +Gz forces, as occurs during spaceflight and prolonged bed-rest, significant cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, metabolic, neural and primarily neuro-vestibular mediated functions are compromised.
Metabolism is changed, with fat accumulating to replace lost muscle and fatty oxidation with a reduced capacity to use fats for energy. In addition to metabolic changes, intermittent exposure to centrifugation mimicking alternating standing and sitting, draws fluids to the feet resulting in secondary increased heart rate, blood pressure, stroke volume, baroreflex sensitivity, increased blood volume and an altogether better functioning cardiovascular system. Centrifugation, as with an intense exercise bout, would probably lead to an endothelial ‘nitric oxide dump’ that would benefit blood vessel responsiveness. Both in space and ageing, endothelial lining atrophies with resulting vascular weakness. Centrifugation has also been found to improve parasympathetic nervous system function as well as brain blood flow and oxygen saturation, all desirable features of improved health and brain function.
A gravity stimulus may be provided in the form of a rotating short-arm centrifuge. Accepting that ageing is primarily a Gz-deprived condition, then it follows that gravity therapy would be a logical treatment during ageing or as a preventive measure in other degenerative conditions or injuries.
If these are caused or worsened by gravity-deprivation then it stands to reason that gravity replacement or treatment should provide relief. These include:
However, relatively little is known about how much and when such artificial gravity is optimal in humans. Studies in animals - rats, mice, rabbits, chickens –were exposed to 2G, 24h/day for 20 days with a short daily stop for cleaning and feeding. Such chronic exposure to 2G resulted in reduced food intake, loss in body fat, increased muscle and bone mass and strength, reduced insulin levels and insulin resistance. On the other hand, human studies have followed the exercise once-a-day custom, and used centrifugation only once a day at levels varying from 0.5 to 1G, however, these once-a-day protocols have proven to be only partially beneficial.
A twice or three times a day G-exposure would come closer to the ideal G stimulation we are exposed to as we move around and change posture throughout the day. In research that I and my colleagues conducted (published 1996) involving volunteers deconditioned by lying in bed continuously, we tested the effect of the 1Gz stimulus of standing up for 15 minutes every two hours throughout the 16-hour day. This schedule was completely effective in maintaining aerobic conditioning, blood volume, cardiovascular responsiveness, and preventing calcium loss from bone, whereas standing up for this time period every 4 hours was found to be less effective.
Clinical applications of Gravity therapy could include, but are not limited to :-osteoporosis, accelerated repair of bone fracture from sports injuries, in the elderly or paraplegics, less insulin resistance in diabetics, increased muscle mass in conditions of muscle wasting, joint deterioration aggravated by weight bearing and potentially certain forms of pulmonary edema or concussion.
What is undoubtedly true is that for many of us our modern lifestyle does not provide the level of activity of our parents and grandparents. We have struggled for decades to exercise more and eat less, but one thing hasn’t changed: we still spend hour after hour each day virtually immobile in our chairs. Our lives have become sedentary and the way we live affects, not only our physical health, but our emotional and mental wellbeing. From the more complex perspective of exercise equipment or centrifuges, to the more everyday and accessible activities that everyone can incorporate into their daily lives, such as simply standing up every 15 minutes or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, using gravity in our favour and as a therapy will become more and more important as we age, helping to maintain the balance and strength we need to continue performing basic life functions.
“There is much that is not known about how gravity is sensed and translated into input to every system in the body. This includes its required threshold, frequency, intensity, duration and direction. Space provides the ideal environment to tease out these aspects of gravity. This is crucial so that we may understand the requirements for replacing gravity in the countermeasure formula for exploration missions as well as expanding our knowledge in basic human physiology on Earth.”
Blog written by Joaquim Ignácio S da Mota Neto, MD, MSc - Psychiatrist, Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil
Apparently, those weird green creatures who live on distant planets and who whizz across outer space, as seen in even weirder old sci-fi movies, are getting ready to be replaced by the very well known shape of human travellers!
Among the many issues concerning human beings becoming extraterrestrials, either permanently or for short periods of time, are those concerning mental health. What happens to our minds in a situation like that? Is the human brain mouldable or adaptable enough to avoid an emotional crisis during such a challenging experience?
Emotions and reactions to the environment are an inexorable part of human life - anxiety, fear, sadness, aggression, a wish to die, and so on. Most of these are quite usually seen as psychological or psychiatric features related to the common diagnosis of mental illnesses, such as panic disorder, major depression, psychosis or phobias. More than just feelings emerging from the latent, smouldering traits of someone's personality, they represent the way many portions of the cerebral cells and their connections are behaving in a particular period of time.
Depression is a disease that affects about 120 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of disability, according to World Health Organization. If we take this disorder as an example of a possible disruptive situation to be coped with during a space mission, we can understand the reasons why neuroscience is a very important medical field to be explored and to be put into perspective if trips like those to Mars are on the menu in the near future. Depression used to be described as the loss of the main appetites, i.e., a loss of appetite for work, food, sex, and for life itself. Perhaps more so than the feelings of sadness and hopelessness, the main real problems for depressed people are the lack of energy and decreased sense of interest or pleasure. There is also a huge impact on cognitive aspects, such as attention and memory, which reduces the ability of a person to accomplish minimal daily tasks, when mixed with insomnia, fatigue and psychomotor retardation. An affective disorder has biological and psychological triggers and it is obvious that while traveling or even living in space, the human body and all its organs, including the brain, must face troublesome phenomena, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation, not to mention the isolation and implicit fearful idea of a possible off-Earth death. Separately or together, and alongside genetic predisposition, these facts can represent the causes of mild or severe depression among crew members or civilians engaged in a space mission, besides eventually interfering in responses to treatment.
"It is a little bit surreal to know that you are in your own little spaceship, and a few inches from you is instant death." NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, 2016
Hundreds of experts and researchers have been trying to delineate all the important medical knowledge required in order to guarantee the success of space projects. It is also crucial to take into account that mental illnesses are able to jeopardise human lives and societies on any planet, regardless of whether that planet is blue or red.
Well done to Elon Musk & the SpaceX team for the successful launch of the Falcon heavy rocket and safe recovery of 2 out of the 3 boosters - IMPRESSIVE!