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 Founder, CEO & Scientific Director
Set your imagination flowing and just consider the following scenario:
"What's your preference? Cultural holidays? Something more adventurous?" asked the travel agent.
The clients would think for a moment and then, slightly hesitantly, they would respond. "We like extreme sports, like mountain climbing, parachute jumping, or diving into the depths of the oceans."
"Excellent - and so I suggest Mars! On the Red Planet there is an extinct volcano, Mount Olympus, the highest in the Solar System, three times taller than our own Everest!" recommended the agent.
"And there the gravity is just one-third that of Earth, which reduces your body to just over 30% of what you weigh here. Therefore, it's even easier to climb mountains there." I added, as the Space Medic of the Intergalactic Travel Agency.
This conversation and many others like it could be heard during a summer festival in London's Brockwell Park in late July, thanks to the creative thinking of Guerrilla Science, who wanted to present the idea of the possibility of experiencing holiday trips to different planets.
Children and adults entered into the game, discussing possible destinations, the activities that could be offered on each planet, or on the moon or an asteroid, the distances to be travelled, and the costs of such a vacation to places far beyond the limits of the Earth. Actors played the role of the travel agents, while I introduced aspects of space tourism that can affect the health of intergalactic adventurers, such as exposure to radiation, the absence of gravity, and confinement within a spacecraft.
Projects, such as this, still belong in the realms of science fiction for now, but they will begin to take shape in the not-so-distant future with the political, scientific and technological advances of Space Tourism. And in response to those of you who do not believe such a thing, Albert Einstein would say - "Something is only impossible until someone doubts it and ends up proving otherwise.”
Gabriela Albandes de Souza
InnovaSpace Culture & Education Project Manager
InnovaSpace took another step this week towards achieving its aim of bringing space closer to society, to reach out to underserved communities, and to make science and space more accessible and inclusive, when InnovaSpace founder Thais Russomano gave a virtual lecture about the participation of women in the space programme to an audience of 39 young ladies, aged between 10 and 12 years from two state-run schools in Gravataí, Brazil, as part of a project called ‘Elas no Lab’ (Girls in the Lab).
This project is the brainchild of three high school students from the Escola Sesi de Ensino Médio Albino Marques Gomes, a private high school in the same city in southern Brazil. Eduarda Rosa Ferreira, Indáia Pereira de Matos and Júlia Alvares Missel had the idea of creating workshops to raise the interest of young girls to pursue scientific careers, as part of a project led by their Physics teacher Cláudia Fraga Germano. Cláudia set her students the task of developing projects that would benefit state-run schools, which often do not receive sufficient funding to invest in the sciences, and lack proper laboratories and equipment. The activities also involved a rocket building workshop using recycled materials, a VR glasses experience that allowed the girls to virtually “travel around the universe”, the photo and video recording of the activities, and an exclusive Q & A session about space science with Thais Russomano at the end of her lecture. Feedback from the girls who attended the event was very positive, with many celebrating this unique and fun experience of learning about science. Another mission accomplished successfully due to a collaboration of working ideas and ideals in partnership! However, consider this just a first step – as InnovaSpace is proud to announce the launch of a new outreach project called Valentina – more details to be posted soon!
InnovaSpace Founder, CEO & Scientific Director
The ancient practice of yoga has its roots deep in the ancestral traditions of India. The word comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which has countless meanings, such as controlling, uniting, concentrating, or integrating. Yoga is seen as a way of harmonising the body and mind, through meditation, breathing techniques and postural exercises.
Despite its influence on various cultures over time, and it being practiced on a daily basis all over the world, I have to confess that I knew very little about this centuries-old practice, that is, until I was invited by Guerilla Science to take part in their Space Yoga class at the Brighton Yoga Festival, held on the weekend of 14th-15th July this year, at the Sussex County Cricket Ground in Brighton & Hove, neighbouring towns on the English south coast.
Rather luckily, my invite did not involve me personally having to perform breathing exercises or adopt certain body positions, as my hosts may have been a little disappointed! It was, however, to talk about the changes undergone by astronauts when they spend time in microgravity, as yoga therapy has been contemplated and researched as a possible complementary activity that could benefit astronaut health and emotional wellbeing, as discussed in a 2012 article published by Joan Vernikos et al*. and a 2013 interview, hosted on the YouTube channel YogiViews.
This combination of yoga and space science is an initiative of Guerilla Science, an organisation that develops events for festivals, museums, galleries and cultural shows, with the goal of connecting people and science through experiences that are fun, inspiring and challenging!
Yoga teacher Gemma Hart conducted the yoga class in five blocks - first, the anti-gravitational muscles of the back and legs were worked; then systems supporting equilibrium and coordination, all of which are impaired by microgravity; next a walk against resistance, as would happen during a space walk; followed by a demonstration of the effect of microgravity on spinal elongation; and ending with the effects of a lack of gravity on the cardiovascular system.
As Gemma, guided the participants as they assumed different body postures, I described some of the effects that microgravity has on the body and mind of the astronaut. And so it was in this way, that on a beautiful sunny day in Brighton by the sea, I was introduced to this ancient practice, merged with science to form - a space yoga class.
*Yoga Therapy as a Complement to Astronaut Health and Emotional Fitness – Stress Reduction and Countermeasure Effectiveness Before, During, and in Post-Flight Rehabilitation: a Hypothesis - Gravitational and Space Biology Volume 26 (1) Apr 2012
InnovaSpace Founder, CEO & Scientific Director
The importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) education has long been talked about, with education policy and curriculum choices targeting these areas to improve competitiveness in science and technology development, and to try and address the shortage of skills in the workforce. While these subjects are extremely relevant in today's world, they do not underpin the innovative process in isolation, often requiring a streak of creativity and imagination to set an idea free. History demonstrates well the productive link between the STEM areas and Art, with Leonardo da Vinci being a classic example - both a great scientist and astounding artist.
The practice of art in its numerous senses, such as, language, physical art, music and design, among many others, can provide imaginative opportunities for communication and expression and inspire the young to be creative with their ideas. Blending art into the STEM areas can also provide a conduit by which to attract the interest of those who might not normally consider the sciences. Although a scientist and doctor myself, I have always been drawn to the arts and am equally as happy writing an article on space physiology as I am writing a romance novel. So when I was contacted by a gentleman from a theatre group wanting to know if I could share a little space knowledge with them, I was delighted to say yes!
The FLUX Phase theatre group brings together a diverse group of actors in training, currently completing an MA in Acting at the E15 Acting School in Loughton, Essex. Their latest production is based on Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, which states that as you travel close to the speed of light, time passes more slowly. So imagine if one identical twin makes a journey into space on a near light-speed spaceship, leaving the other twin at home on Earth, and then returns from 30 years space travel. Will the twin who stayed home have aged more? Will one look much older than the other? This is the Twin Paradox!
I had the great pleasure of virtually meeting with this group of actors to discuss the effects that microgravity has on the human body during a space mission - of which there are many! We chatted about bones, muscles, heart, lungs and the brain, and how these all react to being in an environment where there is no gravity, and in turn, they asked many interesting questions related to body movement and human behaviour in space - an interesting two-way process of bringing together science and art.
The clip below of a rehearsal session is just a taste of this very interesting and creative production, which can be seen at The Albany in Gt Portland Street, London, as part of The Camden Fringe on the 4th & 5th August 2018. Well worth a visit, and anyone turning up in a spacesuit or an Albert Einstein mask can enter for free!!
"The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin ... or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity." Mae Jemison, 1st African American woman in space
Roberto D. Fanganiello
InnovaSpace Scientific & Strategic Consultant
It is with immense pleasure that I helped to catalyze the partnership between InnovaSpace and R-Crio, announced last week. I have been assisting both companies ever since they started operating : R-Crio back in 2014 and InnovaSpace since its incorporation in the United Kingdom, in September, 2017.
R-Crio is a cell technology company headquartered in Campinas, Brazil, whose main service is the processing and storage of adult stromal cells isolated from the pulp of baby teeth. R-Crio also functions as an accelerator of projects, programs and nascent companies, with the final goal of delivering the promise of regenerative medicine and cell-based tissue bioengineering to society, safely and efficiently. A plenitude of these incubated initiatives are educational and this is where I see substantial synergy between R-Crio and InnovaSpace. It is where I also believe that this partnership can benefit both companies the most.
InnovaSpace has a very solid educational basis, which was achieved by a commitment of our team, diligently and wisely orchestrated by Thais Russomano, to think creatively and innovatively about the shape and the focus of each project, to always appoint the best people we can and set clear priorities for each different program and to delineate activities where human potential can be fully realized. At InnovaSpace, with each and every educational enterprise, we are committed to the advancement of a broad education based on critical thinking, instead of a narrowly-focused technical training.
We are not dedicated to teaching people what to think, but how to think, and to instil people with the capacity to make fruitful use of information. At the very core of each new project is the understanding that the best way to surpass the constrainment of opportunities due to race, gender, religion, economic background and geographic location is by the development of freedom to think clearly and independently, and to equip oneself for the ample array of challenges we face in life.
In a broader sense, InnovaSpace and R-Crio also have a lot in common. Both companies have the hallmark features of genuine leaders, of drawing the best out of each project and of inspiring each team to pursue meaningful goals. Both have worked extremely hard and have persevered and thrived in the face of many adversities. And both have stretched way beyond their comfort zones. Nearly everyone has heard the proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. I am certain this partnership will benefit both companies and, as they start to “go together” and continue to grow, they will have more latitude to go as far as their boldest aspirations.
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