Department of Morphological Sciences, ICBS, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Amazing as it may seem, as the number of spaceflights has increased and life aboard space stations has become a reality, the effects of high levels of space radiation and microgravity (micro-G) on mammalian reproduction are still largely unknown. Therefore, the study of reproduction in space is a very important subject for the future of space missions. Research conducted with experimental non-mammal animals, such as sea urchins, fish, amphibians, and birds has concluded that micro-G does not prevent animal reproduction. However, mammalian reproduction presents specific features, such as ovulation, sperm and oocyte (egg) transit in the reproductive tract, embryo attachment, implantation and placentation, which are specific to mammalian reproduction and cannot be studied in non-mammal species. Surprisingly, little information is available today on how these processes occur in conditions of microgravity.
A first problem requiring investigation is the supposed difficulty that sperm and egg cells may have to travel along the female reproductive tract to accomplish natural fertilization under micro-G conditions. A project with 100% relevance is NASA’s Micro-11 research, which aims to examine putative motility alterations in human and bull sperm during spaceflight. “Micro-11 provides fundamental data indicating whether successful human reproduction beyond Earth is possible, and whether countermeasures are needed to protect sperm function in space” (NASA). Rapid directional sperm motility is a key factor for successful fertilisation under natural circumstances. Sperm cells need to swim up the uterine cervix, travel through the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes to meet and fertilise the oocyte. To accomplish all these tasks, human sperm respond to chemoattractant signals, to temperature gradient, and to fluid flow. These guidance mechanisms occur naturally along the female reproductive tract and are important for the sperm-egg encounter and for natural fertilisation to occur in the fallopian tubes, but will these mechanisms be sufficient in micro-G?
Experimental studies with mice have revealed impaired male germ cell generation under microgravity conditions. Of concern are alterations seen in the physiology of testicular cells observed under conditions of simulated microgravity, which may obscure the starting point of mechanisms that lead to long-lasting tumorigenic processes. However, a recent research has shown that the deleterious effects of microgravity on germ cell proliferation, oxidative metabolism and autophagy may be, at least partially, prevented by the presence of antioxidants in the germ cell culture medium. This finding represents an important contribution to the current knowledge of microgravity effects on germ cell tumour metabolism and development.
According to estimates, nearly one in six couples worldwide seek out assisted reproduction technologies for having a child. Thus, it is expected that fertility assistance may also be necessary in space due to naturally occurring fertility problems or due to micro-G induced infertility conditions. A report from the 35th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology recently revealed that frozen human sperm retain their viability and fertilising capacity in outer space, similar to sperm samples stored in liquid nitrogen under Earth’s gravity conditions. This represents a reassuring finding, particularly when considering the importance of sperm cryostorage for fertility preservation, such as in the case of cancer patients who may lose their reproductive potential due to oncological treatments. It also allows us to hypothesise that donor intra-uterine insemination may represent a viable option for having a child under the micro-G conditions found in space stations.
The more complex assisted reproduction technology (ART), “in vitro fertilisation” (IVF), developed by Sir Robert Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe, allows fertilisation to occur outside of the body, i.e., outside its natural tubal environment, in a plastic petri dish, giving rise to the term “test-tube” baby. Its main purpose is to promote fertilisation when the natural encounter of sperm and oocyte is not possible, as is the case of women presenting blocked uterine horns. In summary, oocytes are first collected from the ovaries, (performed by transvaginal ovarian puncture and aspiration) and placed in a petri “IVF” dish containing a culture medium that mimics the tubal micro-environment. The male partner produces a sperm sample, which is prepared for mixing with the oocytes, after which the IVF dish is maintained in a warm incubator (37oC) in a laboratory for fertilisation to take place. The sperm must be able to swim and penetrate the oocyte membrane for fertilisation to be accomplished, and to assist this they are placed close together to facilitate their interaction and fusion.
The resulting embryos remain in the incubator for up to six or seven days, before being transferred to the womb. However, fertilisation will not occur under natural or even IVF conditions when the ejaculated sperm do not present rapid directional motility in a condition called asthenospermia, a common cause of unsuccessful reproduction among infertile couples. To help these individuals generate their own descendants, the ART “intracytoplasmic sperm injection” (ICSI) technique was developed by Dr. Gianpietro Palermo. ICSI allows fertilisation to occur even when the sperm sample is poor in terms of number and/or motility.
The technique uses a micromanipulation station fitted to an inverted microscope equipped with contrast optics that enable three-dimensional visualisation of living cells. The ICSI micromanipulation equipment consists of two glass pipettes; a holding pipette to fix the oocyte and an injection pipette to introduce the sperm into the oocyte cytoplasm (see below video). The ICSI insemination strategy allows fertilisation to occur even under unfavourable conditions, and it can perhaps be hypothesised that this technology may be of assistance in the case of sperm motility deficiencies in outer space, where micro-G conditions may prevent natural, unassisted sperm-egg fusion.
Undoubtedly, much more research needs to be performed before we can erase the large question marks that remain as to the likelihood of natural fertilisation taking place in mammals under micro-G conditions, and if required, how effective current assisted reproduction technology would be when using the ART setup and equipment developed on Earth. With talk of future Moon and Mars colonisation and space hotels in the coming decades, there will come a time when human reproduction under microgravity conditions will need to be better addressed if life is to be sustained in off-Earth environments.
The First Lego League (FLL) is an annual international tournament involving teams of young people aged 9-16 years. It introduces a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus on, research, and create solutions to identified problems, and includes a robotics challenge to perform a set task with a programmable robot constructed from LEGO electronic and mechanical components. This year, over 40,400 teams competed in regional, national and international tournaments with their ideas, including team AC/DC/EG from Brazil, who had a very successful competition and were kind enough to give us an insight into their FLL Into Orbit experience in this year's competition, in their words below:
"The AC/DC/EG team was created on 07/12/2007 to represent the Eduardo Gomes College in São Caetano do Sul, Brazil in the FIRST LEGO League tournament. The team name is formed from the name of the rock band AC/DC together with EG for Eduardo Gomes, and so far, we have participated in competitions at 11 State, 11 National and 7 International stages.
The 2018/2019 FLL - INTO ORBIT tournament has been sensational for us. Our team began taking shape in May 2018, and underwent some changes, beginning with 8 team members and finishing up with 5 members - Eduardo, Felipe and Sophia (from the beginning), and later joined by Gabriella and Fernanda. And it was with this team of 5 that our coach Reginaldo and mentors Giovanni and Giovanna reached the end of the competition.
The official launch of the FLL tournament took place on August 1st 2018, so we used the time from May to August to research several problems related to this year's theme by visiting universities, watching films and videos, reading books, magazines and theses, and talking to experts in the field.
At the beginning of September, we talked with Aerospace Medicine specialist Dr Thais Russomano, presenting to her everything we had studied so far, and it was during one of our initial conversations that we realised there was a problem faced by astronauts, which is: WASHING IN SPACE
We already had the FLL competition documentation in this initial period of our discussions so we began to compare the problems raised to make sure they fitted in with the competition guidelines. In all, we analysed 14 problems:
A phrase we heard that marked our work was by NASA space scientist Robert Frost, who said: "When several people are trapped in an enclosed space, HYGIENE IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE." So, having done our analysis, we chose the subject of how to wash the body in space and defined our problem:
THE INEFFICIENCY OF WASHING IN MICROGRAVITY
And we asked:
HOW CAN WASHING BE MADE MORE EFFICIENT IN MICROGRAVITY?
We continued studying, raising new points and discussing them with Dr Russomano. We looked at the ways of washing that have previously been used and the current method of washing in space.
⇨ A sponge with soap and water, used during the Gemini and Apollo missions.
⇨ A shower on the MIR Space Station that wasted a lot of time, water and energy.
⇨ The Russian kit, which consists of a pre-moistened wipe and can be used for up to 3 days, using less water.
⇨ The NASA Kit, which is a cloth moistened with soap and water.
We noted that, to be ideal, washing should be able to deal with dead skin cells, sweat, oiliness, odour, and bacteria and fungi!
We had a lot of ideas, including a kind of human jet wash that used little water – but this and other ideas were discarded as our objective was for something low-cost, water-free and lightweight, that would occupy very little space on a spacecraft.
It was in thinking about this goal that we discovered a gel called DryBath, created by Ludwick Marishane, mostly for use on the African continent and in places with a scarcity/lack of water. Ludwick’s idea is that water should only be used for drinking and cooking, and for washing it can be replaced by the gel. With just 15ml of the gel, it is possible for an adult to wash without using water, and without the need to remove the gel from skin, as it is moisturising. All of our team tried using the gel, including our coach.
The benefits of the gel in comparison with the existing solutions are enormous, as besides dispensing with the need for water for washing, there is a gain in transport weight and the gel occupies a minimum of space on a spacecraft. However, we needed to know its viability for use in space, so we talked to Chemical Engineer Matheus Messias, who confirmed the gel is non-flammable, and with Dermatologist Oswaldo Cipullo, who said the gel fulfils all the requirements for body washing and can be used daily.
Nonetheless, the current gel packaging makes it unfeasible for use in space, as it generates a lot of waste. Therefore, after some brainstorming and tests, we developed a new storage and application system utilising a 2-litre urine collection bag filled with gel, calculating that each explorer would need 3 such bags to cover a 1-year period. Each bag is fitted with a valve connector to guarantee the pressure required to transport the gel into a syringe-type applicator, which allows its controlled delivery to the body.
This system for gel storage and use saves important resources, enables fast application, requires no cleaning of the equipment, has no loss, and needs no repairs. Currently, 4 litres of water is used in space per wash, whereas, with this quantity of gel it would be possible to have 266 washes, meaning water will no longer be needed for washing the body and can be used for something else within the spacecraft. The cost of the gel and the system is 1610 Brazilian real (approx. £310) per person for a year.
Therefore, it is possible to take something that was designed for use on Earth and adapt it to make its use possible in space, rather like the tortillas of astronaut Rodolfo Vela, as quoted in the FLL Into Orbit competition guidelines."
The InnovaSpace team would like to congratulate the AC/DC/EG team and everyone who supported them for their success and the enthusiasm and joy they brought to the tournament stages! Congratulations also go to the thousands of teams from around the world for their hard work, curiosity, research and enthusiasm - YOU ARE ALL STARS!
The InnovaSpace team in the last years have been involved on a couple of occasions with the innovative activities of Guerilla Science, as they seek to connect the general public with science in new and interesting ways.
The benefits of yoga on Earth are well known, and it is certainly an activity that would improve the health of anyone practicing it regularly. The Guerilla crew have come up with a series of great videos linking dynamic yoga stretches with the effects of microgravity on the human body and mind, assisted by five expert space scientists, one of which is InnovaSpace's very own Space Life Sciences Expert Dr. Lucas Rehnberg, who explains about Space Walks and the problems astronauts face when conducting maintenance tasks on the outside of the International Space Station.
Get out your yoga mats, exercise your body, and stretch your mind learning fascinating facts about the human body in space!
Dr. Lucas Rehnberg
InnovaSpace Space Life Sciences Expert.
Recently I had the pleasure to attend the world’s largest aerospace medicine conference in Las Vegas, the 90th Annual Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) Conference. This was my second AsMA (@Aero_Med) meeting and it didn’t disappoint.
As a doctor training in the UK with an interest in space medicine, the AsMA conference is a great opportunity to present work, meet other space medicine enthusiasts as well as individuals from different disciplines – but all with a shared passion for space and aerospace. The thought behind this blog was to serve as a taster of what AsMA has to offer to those thinking about pursuing a career in this field or who want to gain an idea of how to become involved. So, this was my experience of the conference:
Day 1 - Monday
Started with an incredible opening session commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the moon landing.
The panel was moderated by Dr Mike Barratt, astronaut and flight surgeon, and consisted of some giants from the Apollo missions:
- Dr Charles Berry & Dr Bill Carpentier, Apollo flight surgeons.
- Gerry Griffin, Apollo flight director.
The session opened with a specially commissioned video dedicated to the Apollo 11 landing in 1969 and the lead-up time. It was an excellent reminder of what was achieved when a nation came together and set the tone for the discussion, reflecting on their experience of Apollo 11 and the Apollo missions.
Some of my favourite moments of this session include when Dr Berry told a great story of stopping President Nixon from having a meal with the Apollo 11 crew the night before their launch, including a letter he wrote to President Nixon apologising for this. Then flight surgeon Dr Carpentier told us what flight surgeons learnt from the Mercury and Gemini missions, before starting on the Apollo missions. Dr Carpentier also spoke about some of his training, including practicing jumping from a moving helicopter in order that he could give medical assistance to the landing Apollo crews.
Gerry Griffin spoke of the pressure of the Apollo missions and the relief mixed with excitement when the Apollo 11 crew set foot on the aircraft carrier after their landing. He also spoke about the Apollo 1 tragedy, what we learnt from all the Apollo missions, and how this will help human spaceflight now that we are focusing on going back to the Moon.
Closing comments from each of the panel followed a similar theme, summed up best by Gerry Griffin, "We’ve gotta get back to the Moon. It’s been 50 years since we’ve done it...we need to get our mojo back."
In the afternoon, I attended 2 panels; behavioural health in human spaceflight and advancing future space exploration with medical system design. The former panel emphasised the importance of human factors and behaviours for the success of exploration missions. It highlighted the lack of data and long-term follow-up of many of the astronauts, suggesting a need to ensure this occurs with current crew members, and also to better assess and monitor psychological performance.
The latter panel was very interesting, attempting to do predict the impossible; what can go wrong with crewmembers and how do we plan/prepare for it? The list of medical conditions that could occur during a human mission to Mars is extensive, and plans for dealing with such events are still in development. The panel members described risk analysis with all the available current data, also emphasising the importance of an interface between medics and engineers to help design systems to overcome these problems (the old mass, power, volume issue).
This began with the ESAM (European Society of Areospace Medicine) panel. There were talks on the difficult topic of airway management and intubation in microgravity, with some interesting results suggesting that modern video laryngoscopy could be a useful tool in novice healthcare providers in order to increase their success rate. There followed a review of the latest microgravity CPR data in order to develop an evidence-based CPR guideline, and finally Dr Christina Mackaill (@cosmic_scot - one to follow!) talked about some of the terrestrial benefits of hypogravity CPR research.
The afternoon saw an EXCELLENT panel on analog missions, discussing the medical considerations for each one. Speakers included:
I also had the pleasure of presenting some work conducted with the Austrian Space Forum on the AMADEE18 Mars analog mission, looking at fatigue in analog astronauts. The rest of the panel included excellent speakers on current developments for IVA (intra vehicular activity) suits and a portable lower body negative pressure device.
The afternoon session was then dedicated to the medical lessons learnt from the Apollo missions - a great historical look at what they did, what was learnt from it, and how it will shape what we do when going back to the Moon. The session included a review of the main biomedical results and how medical operations were conducted during the Apollo missions, an interesting insight into the food and nutrition of the Apollo crews, and the recovery and quarantine programme of the Apollo Moon landing missions. Truly some giants in the field of space life science, and what they learnt 50 years ago will shape how we return humans to the Moon in the next 10 years!
This day had a good mix of space medicine topics:
I should point out that what I have written here is just my experience of the AsMA meeting this year in Las Vegas; there were so many other great panels that I couldn’t attend, even a course on desert medicine hosted by AsMA (alas, I had to fly home).
For students or young professionals looking to enter this exciting field, I would highly recommend the AsMA conference (next year in Atlanta, Georgia, USA). There are a range of scholarships to help fund attending the conference, check out the AsMA website for details: https://www.asma.org/home
The conference will give you the opportunity to hear from experts, past and present, from NASA, ESA, all branches of the military, flight surgeons, astronauts, engineers and so many more. In addition, there are breakout sessions ranging from luncheons with guest speakers to ‘Speed Mentoring’ to help students and young professionals to network, build relationships and guide them in their next steps for a career in space.
Again, if this is your dream, AsMA is a great place to start. For more information, check out their website, or get in touch for more information. If your a fan of social media, I would also recommend following InnovaSpace on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter, and also some of the mentioned individuals in this article - they are just a few of the many space medics out there doing interesting work - and apologies to anyone I missed!
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