If someone asked you – “what do you want to do when you become an adult?" – what would your response be?
Now, imagine me as a 14-year-old student at an art school, and one day going to a Red Cross course and recognizing that you love the idea of the First Rescue and Emergency services. My first answer was always – Astronaut! But… what should I do now? Astronaut or Doctor ...?
Solution? Helicopter flight physician!
But how can I do this thing…is it possible? Yes, it is!
I first studied medicine and became an anesthetist and intensivist. And so it was… once I graduated and then specialized in anesthesia, I began to frequent the world of Helicopter Rescue. A fantastic job that combines flight, wonderful landscapes (the Dolomites ...) and the human factor. A lot of different situations every day and in different places. The helicopter flight physician is responsible for providing casualties with emergency medical assistance at the accident site, as well as attending to patients during primary and secondary missions. The scope of activities also involves recovering patients from topographically difficult terrain by means of a rescue hoist. This applies exactly from the time the patient is put into your care until you hand them over to the medical staff responsible at the destination hospital.
I remember one early afternoon in September 2013, the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) Dispatching Centre of Treviso, Italy received a call from a person who told the operator that her cousin, a 53-year-old man with a previous history of inferior myocardial infarction, had suddenly fallen down while walking at home. While dispatching the nearest ambulance, the dispatcher provided CPR pre-arrival instructions to the caller, according to standard protocols. An EMS helicopter, staffed by an emergency physician (namely, me!) and a nurse, was dispatched to the scene. The first emergency unit, staffed by a nurse and an emergency technician, reached the patient within 10 minutes of the call and found the woman performing chest compressions as instructed by the dispatching center operator. My team in the helicopter reached the patient 10 minutes after the first unit started ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support). The cardiac rhythm was a persistent ventricular fibrillation and the decision was made to apply a LUCAS-3 chest compressions device to the patient, who was then transported directly to the hospital and catheterization laboratory. Selective percutaneous coronary angiography was performed with ongoing continuous mechanical chest compressions. Coronary angioplasty was performed on two coronary arteries. Five days after resuscitation, the patient was extubated and was alert and oriented. After 16 days he was discharged from the Intensive Care Unit and transferred to a post-intensive care unit. The patient survived without any neurological damage despite prolonged resuscitation and a call-to-ROSC (return of spontaneous circulation) interval of nearly 2 hours. The immediate beginning of chest compressions by the caller and uninterrupted CPR by medical teams preserved the brain from ischemic damage.
The mechanical chest compression device permitted safe and effective CPR during helicopter transportation directly to the catheterization laboratory, which permitted the removal of the coronary artery occlusions, which were preventing the ROSC.
This is why I think this is an amazing job…
A little about the author: Alessandro Forti
As well as being a certified specialist in Cardiac-Anaesthetics, Intensive Care Medicine and Aerospace Medicine, currently working as an intensivist, cardiac-anesthesiologist and HEMS doctor in northern Italy, Alessandro has a passion for space clinical medicine, which began in 2012 following a post-graduate course in Space Medicine at the San Donato Milanese University.
He has been involved in space medical research as a COSPAR (Committee on Space Research) collaborator and acted as a reviewer of many scientific articles for the journal Advances in Space Research (Elsevier). He was also Coordinator of the HEMS base in Pieve di Cadore-Italy from 2018-2020.
Alessandro is Principal Investigator for the research Mechanical Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in Simulated Microgravity and Hypergravity Conditions: a manikin study, which took place during the 4th. parabolic flight campaign in Dübendorf (CH) in June 2020, in collaboration with the SkyLab Foundation, CNES and DLR.
His main areas of interest are space clinical medicine, CPR in different environments (mountain, avalanche victims, hypothermia, hyper and microgravity), ongoing CPR with ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) neuroprotection and neuromonitoring during DHCA (Deep Hypothermia Cardiac Arrest) in Cardiac Surgery.
We continue to follow along with the wonderful experience of ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen during his year spent at the Concordia research station in Antarctica. Catch-up with his previous blogs at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Fortunately it is not all body fluids (and solids) in the ESA lab. Other projects are more interested in the psychological adaptation to space-like environments. How do we deal mentally with the isolation far from home, the confinement, monotony, and life in a small international crew? The experiences and stressors that crews face during such missions require a certain degree of mental resilience, or may otherwise result in cognitive or behavioural problems and a loss of performance that can be dangerous to both the crew and the mission. To facilitate such psychological adaptation and resilience, the scientists behind MINDFULICE (‘role of mindfulness disposition in an isolated and confined environment’) for example are investigating the use of ‘mindfulness’ as a tool for deep space missions.
‘But isn’t that something for Buddhist monks?’, I hear you question…
I actually like to think it is quite the opposite. And although maybe it isn’t an easy construct to grasp, we are all already mindful to a certain degree. Perhaps it is best to think of it as a mental process, of being aware in the present moment, welcoming what is new with an intention of kindness and compassion, and being open-minded enough to see new possibilities in any given situation rather than relying on what you have previously learned. Everyone does that to a certain degree, but everyone can also learn to do it more.
Perhaps that is the biggest reason that the concept is gaining so much popularity so quickly. In our stressful and busy lives, mindfulness helps us to see solutions rather than problems, and research has already demonstrated many of its benefits, spanning from health and well-being to even business and artistic endeavours! A mindful attitude has shown to reduce stress while increasing resilience, task performance, enjoyment, psychological and even physical well-being, and in general a higher quality of life. That, I would say, is the promising power of the mind!
So can mindfulness also help astronauts to cope with the harshness of a deep space mission? We like to think so, but to find out we must first understand how it relates to stress and psychological wellbeing in such conditions, and Concordia serves as the ideal testing ground. Of course that means more tests for us, so over the year we fill in questionnaires and perform attention tasks to determine how mind- and stressful we actually are. And how about you? Are you mindful enough to one day float to the stars?
The next instalment of a fascinating blog series by ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen who spent a year at the Concordia research station in Antarctica. Catch-up with his previous blogs at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
And so we keep delivering. Questionnaires about stress, physical and mental wellbeing, questionnaires about nutrition habits, stool samples, saliva samples, blood samples, taste tests with taste strips, smell tests with ‘Sniffin’ Sticks’. I make pictures of what I am eating twice a day, and our cook records our menu a whole year long. And, perhaps best of all, we all take a sachet every day, without even knowing if it contains a probiotic supplement, or nothing but just powder…
‘This reminds me of the dentist. And this of flower fields when I was young. And this one is industrial banana for sure!’ The ‘Sniffin’ Sticks’ induce vivid memories, but do our smell and taste change in this understimulating environment? And how does that relate to our eating habits? Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA–S. Thoolen
This time the tests are for another study called ICELAND (‘immune and microbiome changes in environments with limited antigen diversity’). ICELAND doesn’t focus on altitude, but instead uses the homogeneous environment of Concordia, another stressor to our body and mind, as a testbed for examining changes in immune health. Have you ever thought of the idea that, just like in Concordia or in space, a lack of new bacteria and viruses can actually deteriorate your immune system? Have you ever considered that we may be too hygienic? Just like losing muscles when we spend too much time on the couch, or losing skills if we don’t practice our brain, we can lose immune function when it is not stimulated, and according to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ this may be one of the reasons for an increased incidence of asthma and skin inflammation in children in developed countries. In a similar way, prolonged isolation and confinement in the stressful and ‘clean’ environments of Antarctica or space is thought to increase susceptibility to infections and even allergies!
But the immune system is complex, and the many interactions it holds with other body systems such as our digestive system and our brain are just being discovered. For example, changes in nutrition can have an effect on the composition and health of our gut bacteria, which in recent years have been found to play an important role in the development of immune-related diseases such as allergies and cancer. Other studies in addition have found gut health to be related to mental wellbeing as well. So can we maintain a healthy brain and a healthy immune system if we maintain a healthy gut? We still have much to learn about ourselves, and ICELAND aims to investigate these interesting interactions. Hence those daily sachets: comparing the test outcomes between those of us who took gut bacteria-stimulating probiotics and those who didn’t can give us valuable information about its potential to counter these health risks!
Director of Innovation at FAPERN/Coordinator of Space Analog Station @HabitatMarte
The space experience must be creative, cooperative and respectful. This is what the partnership established between the analog space station Habitat Marte and InnovaSpace is all about. The operationalization of the Habitat Marte project has permitted the bringing together of numerous enthusiastic people from the space area, this being the case for the virtual meeting that took place between myself and Thais Russomano, CEO of InnovaSpace.
When I see how much more we can do to help children and young people through the debate, education and popularisation of science using the space theme, this generates a high state of consciousness. It’s excellent having the possibility of interacting with the right people in order to create genuine relationships and interest in the professional growth and development of others, thus collaborating for a better world, with more justice and prosperity, especially for those who would like to include themselves more in the aerospace field. Many people find the space theme to be very inspiring and it seems to foster confidence and a great sense of personal fulfilment. I observe this in the trajectory of many young people who see this area as a future professional field
Bringing space into the forum of debate helps to expand our awareness and embrace a new vision/perception of problem-solving, as we have observed in the Habitat Marte experience where we are contemplating future space stations and how they can operate as self-sustaining models, considering water and waste management, food production in closed systems and energy generation. Indeed, the research interest in these three areas can translate to benefit the sustainability of planet Earth, especially in arid and semi-arid regions and those under the threat of climate change.
Furthermore, the popularisation of science education using space as a conduit can contribute to a revolution in education, as researchers believe space can serve as a gateway to attract the interest of children and young people and stimulate their enthusiasm for the STEAM areas, or as I put it S3TEAM - Space Science Sustainability Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics.
Retaining that interest in space can guide scientific career and advanced training choices, which is likely, in time, to lead to innovation and solutions to important problems faced on planet Earth. In this sense, the Habitat Marte space analog station is a pioneering project, as it has led to many young people developing new skills and building greater self-confidence to undertake careers and projects linked to space.
Habitat Marte emerged as an analog space station in December 2017, completing 3 years of activity during 2020. Before the pandemic in Brazil emerged, 32 missions had been carried out, however, following the spread of the coronavirus, face-to-face missions were suspended, and the alternative of virtual missions was introduced, which led to Habitat Marte completing 62 missions by the end of 2020. In addition, Habitat Marte has transformed from being a national organisation with Brazilian participants only, to receiving international applications from 28 countries.
At this moment it is important to present the values of Habitat Marte:
Creativity - because I believe in a methodology of encouraging participants to think about various characteristics of the operation of a Mars station, and these ideas have led to the publication of abstracts and papers.
Respect – because we believe in equality in all things, with women making up more than a quarter of our participants and our policy is to not discriminate on the basis of nationality, religion, social class, gender or sexual preference. Habitat Marte does not make judgments on these matters but encourages everyone.
Collaboration – because the activities of Habitat Marte focus on the participation of people from different areas of knowledge, generating opportunities to participate in competitions and other activities, to promote the creation of new content for application in space and on Earth.
Our social networks constantly share motivational knowledge and invitations for new participants. More information about Habitat Marte can be found by searching for the @HabitatMarte profile on social media, and by accessing our YouTube channel, where you will find almost 300 videos of quality content, many of which demonstrate the contribution of our projects to the ideals of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With creativity, we hope that Habitat Marte will continue to expand its activities throughout 2021, finding economic sustainability, and also strengthening its ties with InnovaSpace.
The fascinating blog series chronicling a year in the life of ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen at the Concordia research station in Antarctica continues. Catch-up with his previous blogs at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, July 28, 2020
Sunlight: none, but the skies are turning colours again!
Windchill temperature: -83°C
Mood: some days a little tired, and on others, like the skies, full of colour
If you have read my previous posts, you have probably had enough of the beautiful-environment-and-working-together-drivel, and I am guessing you are now thinking something along the lines of: weren’t you supposed to do space research?
Good question, and it makes me realise that perhaps it is time for something more interesting: science!
But I am not sure if an ESA blog can go without any music, so before we continue here is a nice tune to walk you through:
Take, for example, the altitude. Here in Concordia we live at an altitude that is equivalent to about 3800 meters above sea level at the equator. As such, it's as if the air were to contain about 40% less oxygen for us to breath, and you definitely feel that when you arrive here by plane. Low energy, panting with the slightest exercise, waking up gasping for air multiple times a night, headache, dizziness, loss of appetite. Some really get sick from it, and in rare cases people have to be sent back to the coast due to life-threatening build-up of fluid in the lungs or brain! Yet, in 1978 Messner and Habeler reached the summit of Mount Everest at an altitude of 8848 meters without using any supplemental oxygen at all. How? They allowed time for their bodies to adapt.
At Concordia it usually takes a few days before you feel better. As your body senses a decrease in oxygen pressure it immediately tries to save your cells from getting damaged by sucking in more air (breathing) and pump more oxygen through the body (by increasing heart rate), and subsequently starts up a remarkable cascade of physiological processes that eventually leads to an increased production of red blood cells. As a result, the composition of our blood can drastically change over weeks, to help deliver sufficient oxygen to each of our cells. Pretty cool, don’t you think? Even though after eight months I still find myself hyperventilating up the stairs and having miserable nights every once in a while, at least it allows me to go to beautiful places like Concordia!
The adaptation however comes with a trade-off: if the need for oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is too high (at higher altitudes, where there is less oxygen) and too many red blood cells are made, the blood can become so thick that it increases the risk of blood clotting, high blood pressure in the lungs, and even heart failure! Such health issues have been seen in some people living permanently at high altitude. So how healthy actually is a year of adaptation at Concordia? Knowing that similar low oxygen conditions may exist in future space habitats for technical, economical and safety reasons, and considering the simultaneous blood volume alterations usually seen as an effect of microgravity, answering that question is important to understand astronaut health and safety during future long-duration space missions.
The ANTARCV study (‘alterations in total red blood cell volume and plasma volume during a one-year confinement in Antarctica: effect of hypoxia’) is implemented this year to do so. Each month the crew comes to the ESA lab for a lucky treatment of vein punctures, and an awkward procedure of breathing a very small and safe dose of carbon monoxide through small, restrictive tubes. This way I can determine our blood volumes. Besides I analyze how thick our blood is, store blood samples for further analysis in Europe, and we all wear a watch one week a month to record our activity. That way we make sure that the changes we see in blood volumes are not just a result of changes in physical activity. You can understand the crew loves me for it…
ANTARCV on full speed. By administering carbon monoxide and determining the increase in its concentration in the blood, we can calculate how many red blood cells are circulating through the body/ANTARCV op volle snelheid. Door koolstofmonoxide toe te dienen en de concentratietoename te bepalen in het bloed, kunnen we berekenen hoeveel rode bloedcellen er door het lichaam circuleren. Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA–S. Thoolen
Still, all of us are participating in the research, and that is awesome! You see, doing human research here can be quite a challenge, not only because of language barriers, limited data transfer possibilities, or complex transportation logistics, but mostly so because the participation in these experiments is entirely voluntary. None of us works here primarily to serve as a test subject, and it is not that I can force anyone really… So to make sure I come home after a year with sufficient interesting data, I better make sure that everyone is happy with what we are doing here. For me perhaps a tricky mix between work and private life, but all for the good cause of science! After all, who doesn’t want to be part of the space program, bring benefit to future hivernauts and astronauts, and on top of that help to understand health challenges of our present-day society?
Space Law & Policy Analyst
On the 2nd of October 2020, the Astro Zimba space education curriculum for young children began its programme, launching a pilot study with the Whitestone School, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This space education curriculum recognises that building Zimbabwe’s space autonomy is hinged on the nation’s capacity to make a critical mass of skilled individuals. This capacity-building must necessarily begin from the early developmental stages.
The Astro Zimba curriculum, created by myself and Marco Romero, in collaboration with InnovaSpace and Students for Exploration & Development of Space (Zimbabwe), is a series of lectures on space and space-related themes, using interactive sessions, games, videos, comic books and other learning activities to spark space science and technology curiosity amongst the youth. This is done in the hopes that more children, especially young girls, will be inspired to take up STEM subjects and careers. The founders of this programme identified a gap in existing curricula, one which they wish had been filled during their initial years, and one which they believe has a profound impact on the development of the space industry.
Space sciences and technology, while a rapidly developing and exciting field, can often be quite a technical subject area for young children to understand. That said, having a dedicated programme which delivers science content in an engaging, tailored and fun way helps to boost interest in young children. It has the dual effect of inspiring both genders to become involved, which is the goal of the Valentina project for girls, facilitated by InnovaSpace, acknowledging that young girls are underrepresented in the STEM sciences. Giving access to quality education boosts social and economic circumstances, alleviates poverty and empowers young girls, positively impacting on the SDG 1 (poverty reduction), SDG4 (quality education) and SDG5 (gender equality).
The following lesson plans were presented during the pilot study. The introductory video sought to spark the learner’s curiosity and inspire more children to pursue careers in the space industry. Having careers in the space industry, the Founders thought it important to add a touch of personal experience and insights, including initiatives that have made a difference in their personal career journeys. The learners are introduced to each week’s theme through an interactive video message, before proceeding with practical in-person class sessions.
As can be seen from the introductory lectures, the Astro Zimba programme is intended to be a very low and cost-effective means of disseminating critical space education and information, tailoring it to a young audience, and creating a model that will one day be replicated through schools throughout the country and Africa. As the programme gains momentum, so will the need for more resources and collaborators, especially towards the procurement of equipment (such as telescopes), and funding (towards the publishing of a space education handbook, videos, and other digital content).
The use of visual media has had a profound impact on children because much of their learning has been facilitated through Google Classrooms. With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a virtual platform has meant that the children can still participate and receive content even from the comfort of their homes. This has made a tremendous impact on the potential to scale vital space education and skills to even the most remote of communities. Which is why the Astro Zimba project will also diversify into Youtube and podcast versions, to cater to as many diverse needs and requirements across the country. We count on your support to continue to make this endeavour a reality for all children in Zimbabwe.
The InnovaSpace Team says: If you would like to find out more about the Astro Zimba project, please do get in touch and we will put you in contact with Ruvimbo - it is an excellent project!
My Dad and I have discovered a way to combine the smartphone iPad with ultraviolet/infrared with space observation telescopy to make space discoveries, with assistance of the DIGI phone network and iCloud. My Dad and I devised this lens innovation. We were always fascinated by the surface of the Moon and planet Mars.
We also won an International Special Award presented by the World Invention Intellectual Property Association (WIIPA), and a Gold Award and Special Award presented by the Toronto International Society of Innovation & Advanced skills (TISIAS) Canada
The International Programme Committee (IPC) also selected our presentation - Lunar Surface, To Support Growth & Development Of A Sustainable Society On The Moon - for their repository at the Moon Village Association's online Workshop & Symposium in cooperation with the Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation.
My Mom is also a part of our team. The role of women is important in space discovery and space planetary surface observation technologies, and women like my mom and their abilities don’t get recognised enough. The UNOOSA Space4women mentors are always trying to get more kids my age and women to participate in space programs globally through their network.
Take a look at all of the Moon photographs captured and displayed here. These were all as a result of our invention, the space lens innovation smartphone iPad ultraviolet infrared incorporated into telescopy, which we recently filed for a patent in Malaysia. It was difficult to know how to commercialise our space lens innovation product as we couldn’t find anyone to give us advice in Malaysia, so we had to learn by ourselves and by getting bits and pieces of advice from international space agencies.
We have thousands of videos and photographs that we've captured, and these could potentially help to prepare other kids my age for space and lunar exploration.
The team at InnovaSpace would like to congratulate Arav for some amazing photos of the Moon & planets, and for all his study and hard work. Congratulations must also go to Arav's Mom and Dad for all the encouragement and support they clearly give him, which is so invaluable. Keep studying Arav and keep looking up to the stars - perhaps one day you may find your place among them on the Moon or Mars!
LINK for Part 1 of On Spaceships and Saunas
Human nature has long been associated with pleasure, a powerful feeling capable of articulating body and soul, thus releasing mankind, even if momentarily, from its all-too-grounded existence on Earth, destined as it seems to endure a rather laborious, extenuating, survival oriented life.
As we've reached the 21st century, any contemplation of a better world has been blatantly discouraged by the force of capitalism and the so-called Anthropocene. Indelibly marking the planet at current times, and acting as a new geological era signalling the exhaustion of life on Earth, this human phenomenon brings into question how the promiscuous entanglement between culture, technology and nature has utterly transformed our landscapes and lives, forging a second nature as artificial as the romantic projection of a first nature – or of what it had possibly been prior to civilisation.
COVID – 19 is just one of the side effects of a runaway world, whose current features are as resembling of a sci-fi novel as they are of our innermost disquieting images of a collapsing future, depicted with the same curiosity and fear of extinction that propels humankind vertically towards the outer space, the Moon and beyond. In the midst of this not so brave new world, how could the overlapping spheres of angst, science and pleasure impact our minds and future?
It's still soon to predict how the world will appear and operate in the near future. Philosophers and scientists alike argue that the current pandemics and climate atrocity has opened up The window of opportunity that could allow us to reshape the world, not only environmentally speaking but also politically on all levels: to slow down consumption, communication and capitalism; to (re) establish the welfare state; to expand democracy and consolidate democratic societies, which have been gradually fading in recent years (the US and Brazil to name but a few); to preserve the ozone layer, the Amazon and endangered species elsewhere; to nourish solidarity among nations and citizens; to enjoy a more fulfilling, frugal and pleasurable life; the list of wishes/demands goes on and on...
For all we know, so far, not only life on the planet has been exposed in its extreme feebleness – to the extent of reaching a point of no return – but also the innermost human qualities have been put at stake, risking gradual loss of affection and therefore emotional numbness.
Humanity has been enduring dramatic shifts in its sensibility in the recent past. AIDS had already reframed sexuality in the 1980's, banning free sex from the world agenda and establishing caution as the common ground for all human sex interaction, while the Internet has virtually been separating individuals physically and therefore emotionally in an unforeseen fashion.
In this increasingly aseptic world – at least, when it comes to human interaction – that nonetheless bears a tremendous virulent and filthy relationship towards nature, it remains to be seen if our civilisation will eventually be able to preserve not only saunas, sex and the human factor in all its diversity, but foremost the planet as a sustainable, democratic and pleasurable environment for generations to come, in the near and distant futures.
Albeit this toxic atmosphere, it would be wise to keep Mars and the black holes as speculative research fields – even if we do manage to reach them in the flesh – and not the sole and only escape route of a sombre, drained and dangerous, ill-fated world.
Since art and science operate as portals to the realm of fiction, allowing us to delve into the unknown – and perhaps to grasp reality in all its (lack of) plasticity –, the notions of invention and discovery become analogous, driving forces that help us shape both the present and the future through politics and imagination.
Luis E. Luque Álvarez, M.Mus.Ed.
Violin Teacher, Kittenberger Kálmán Primary & Arts School, Nagymaros, Hungary. Member of ELGRA
Across centuries playing and listening to music has been an important human psycho-physiological communication path with or without lyrics. It is clear that in space sciences music has intervened in the life of most scientists as a motivational and alternative health resource. Pythagoras of Samos studied the physiological effect of certain scales and melodies on the human body, he believed each different modal scale would induce a different mood state to the listener or player. Several astronomers like the Galilei family, and William and Caroline Herschel, among others, were strongly connected to music, indeed they were exceptional musicians themselves.
And it was during the Apollo 9 mission when Rusty Schweickart carried a Sony Tape recorder, strictly for the purpose of providing a musical environment for the astronauts. Since then, astronauts have often highlighted the importance of music for their mission performance and have taken their music with them, indeed a tradition of wake-up calls from Mission Control has long been established to begin the astronauts’ days. These anecdotes indicate how strong is the importance of music, at least psychologically, perhaps physiologically too, for astronauts under the stress and pressures caused by the confinement of a spaceflight mission.
Music for Space Project
As a music student in 2016 I became curious about the idea of experimenting with the effect of listening to and playing music in space. At that time, I didn’t find much scientific literature about the effects of music in microgravity, hypogravity or hypergravity. Music has been highlighted only as a leisure practice and for psychological support, though I believe it provides much more than that. In 2018, I was lucky enough to have the support of the ESA Education Office, DLR, European Astronaut Centre and the European Low Gravity Research Association, teaming up with some French and Hungarian students to perform a first experiment using personalized music intervention as a psycho-physiological countermeasure under exposure to hypergravity in a Short Arm Human Centrifuge. During the ESA Spin Your Thesis Human Edition programme, our student team, along with two others (SpinKings and Spin Doctors), were able to perform some very interesting research in different space physiology fields. Our research involved 10 male participants, divided equally into two groups of 5, and spinning them in the centrifuge at 1Gz and 1.5Gz of hypergravity, with one group listening to a different style of music per spinning protocol, while the other group were spun without music. We recorded many different variables, including sociocultural background, psychological mood states, muscle tone, and galvanic skin response, among others.
Preliminary results have shown there is a clear tendency in the effect of music to decrease the tension, anxiety levels compared with the control group without music, and there was a certain stabilisation of stress muscles, which previous centrifuge studies have shown to be affected in a different way. Currently, the data is being re-analysed with the cooperation of scientists at ESA aiming to publish the complete data results. Since the Spin Your Thesis Human Edition campaign, the audio device with stereo signal installed specifically for the music experiment still remains attached to the short arm human centrifuge, where nowadays ESA astronauts and study participants can enjoy their favourite music playlist on the centrifuge.
This experiment was the initial phase of the Music For Space project, which aims to continue the research with music as a psycho-physiological countermeasure to improve astronaut’s health with alternative medicine methods and perhaps one day for Earth citizens as well.
We have in music history thousands of music styles, genres, instrumentations, and performance versions. To determine their specific benefits or disadvantages, we would need to perform more terrestrial tests, such as using a human centrifuge, parabolic flights, and analog simulations. In addition to music listening, I aim to measure in space how the playing of musical instruments could support brain, muscles, and bone health. Further studies could lead us to obtain enough data to approach an adequate and systematic music therapy method for spaceflight crews.
I encourage all students and young researchers from fields that seem to be far from space sciences to feel curious, to pursue your dreams and to try the student experiments offered by the ESA Education Office. These are an unforgettable life experience and a wonderful opportunity for students to contribute to space-related research.
We welcome back ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, as he continues his tales of life at the Concordia research station in Antarctica, in the harsh environment of the world's southernmost continent. If you have missed them, do check out his earlier blogs, complete with wonderful photos - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, July 10, 2020
Windchill temperature: -84°C
Mood: still OK
The Antarctic winter solstice is special. As the Earth’s south pole is maximally tilted away from the Sun and the longest night falls over the southern hemisphere, people everywhere and since prehistoric times gather in tradition to celebrate the change of season and welcome the return of sunlight. But for a bunch of lost scientists and technicians on the Antarctic continent, that longest night lasts much longer. They won’t see any Sun for another one-and-a-half months. For them, mid-winter marks not just the gradual return of daylight, but much more so the midpoint of an extraordinary nine-month winterover adventure.
So it is an important moment. A time for celebration and for reflection (or perhaps just celebration…). To me it looks a little like Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, but with a twist perhaps (we are winteroverers, after all). Presents, dinners, parties, and (digital) mid-winter greetings from all the other Antarctic stations, kindly inviting us to come over to celebrate together. ‘The door is always open’, ‘generous parking space for motor vehicles and sledges’, ‘plenty of accommodation with ice sea vistas’, ‘bring your sleeping bag’, ‘COVID-19 free’. Anyway, you get the much-needed humour.
At first I wondered: being here only for about half a year now, how can such a completely new thing already hold such importance to people? No ritual, no guidelines, no one really knowing how to celebrate it, and yet the expectations are high in our crew, and the ideas plentiful. But looking back I have to admit: mid-winter is a beautiful tradition, even though never celebrated before…
While hints of daylight can be spotted on the horizon around noon, there won’t be any sun for another one-and-a-half months.
Winter can be harsh, without sunlight, far away from home, and with the same twelve people, for such a long time. And even in such an interesting and beautiful place, also I have recognized a few moments of disappointment. I guess, with all those different backgrounds and being the only Dutch around, it is not always easy to feel understood. Or perhaps it is just me who is getting a little less tolerant, in higher need for emotional support. And while that doesn’t make life always easy here, I recently read a beautiful sentence:
‘Do not worry that others don’t understand you. Rather worry that you don’t understand others.’
Can we still bring up that flexibility to try to understand each other, in a world where we are tempted to blame our problems on all but ourselves? On the ethical playground of Concordia, where walking away is out of the question and a lack of group cohesion can have direct consequences to our own wellbeing, I like to believe it is essential. And wasn’t this exactly what I was here for? To learn to become a better person?
With such thoughts in the back of my mind and realizing we still have another half to go, mid-winter then becomes the perfect excuse to work a little on ourselves. To do an extra effort for each other, give rather than ask, and just share some fun. To collaborate in a positive way to get closer as a group, building that tolerance for each other again, and making us all a little more willing to see the best in each other. And as such, music went back on loud again, and we went to work…
Brazilian night complete with exotic travel stories (you can imagine how popular these become here) and table soccer tournament, quiz night, cheesy fatty Alpine dinner, ‘kermesse’ games event including prizes to win, a spa (our hospital doctor decided that we could give the hospital a better use for the winter months), the first Antarctic championship of the traditional Italian game ‘Ruzzolone’ (Google it, and let your imagination do the rest), and, for once this year, an opportunity to actually go out for dinner (we eat in the same room all year long) in our ‘McDome’ fast-food restaurant (you may know it better as the astronomy shelter…). Ordered by radio and served upon arrival. Burgers, chips, milkshakes, and amazing reactions from the rest of the crew: everything a deprived winteroverer needs!
Mid-winter was great! Each of us participated to organize some of the festivities, and it kept us busy for sure. We celebrated five days full of the most ridiculous activities, and we were all exhausted afterwards. I guess that all these efforts may seem trivial back home, and the details may not look like much from the outside, but here I feel it is pretty important to us. These ridiculous activities bring variety, make us smile, and get us fueled up for another four-and-a-half month together. These will become the memories that we take home after a year on ice, and I think that makes mid-winter worth all the effort!
It makes me wonder how I will feel after a yearlong of practicing the much-needed tolerance and social consciousness here in Concordia: do we put the same amount of effort in each other at home?
to the InnovaSpace Knowledge Station