One of the first ethnographies I read when beginning my Social Anthropology Master’s degree course was Beamtimes and Life Times: The World of High Energy Physicists (1988), by Sharon Traweek. She based this seminal account on her five years of fieldwork within the almost exclusively male domain of particle physicists, studying their culture, cosmology and worldview. One fascinating aspect that she underlines is the peculiar relationship that exists between these scientists and the accelerators and detectors they use to identify subatomic particles and understand their behaviour. The accelerators are some of the largest machines built and a great part of the scientist’s life is spent inside them: hence, not just a machine, but a place. Inside these accelerators are placed the detectors, each designed and crafted by a group of scientists to find answers to their specific research questions: not just a machine, but a conceptual and intellectual fingerprint. A new particle found may unveil a big mystery about the universe and catapult a scientist to academic stardom, however, it could also prove the whole hypothesis to have been built on a misguided assumption and thus, failure. As cosmologies and careers are at stake and the data collected may promote a paradigm shift, the detectors hold the hope of access to a hidden world. Therefore, they are more like portals than machines.
There is a same high dependency on machines in space science in order to access far away or invisible events and data, and this steered my attention toward human/non-human relationships in this context. This dichotomy itself is rather a cultural construct, and in some cultures this line is not clearly defined and is variable according to the cultural context, being more or less defined in certain places at certain times. In the context of space science, it becomes even more blurred. When applied to an astronaut, for instance, this concept tends not to make sense. In fact, an astronaut only becomes an astronaut in conjunction with the spacesuit/spacecraft, or they would be unable even to reach space to become a space-traveller. In this sense, you do not have simply the human (astronaut) and the non-human (spacesuit, spacecraft), but one single entity. An astronaut is inexorably a cyborg: a hybrid of organism and machine.
The close relationship of dependency between the human and non-human in space science tracks back to the 17th century, when Galileo Galilei was the first to use instruments, another specific kind of non-human, to enhance the vision and turn the invisible visible. It was a humble telescope compared to Hubble, which has already “seen” galaxies 13 billion years away, however it was able to spot the four biggest Jovian moons and the rings of Saturn. That instrument was responsible for a paradigm shift, as it provided empirical evidence to legitimate the heliocentric model offered by Copernicus the century before.
Since then, the cosmos has become ever closer and more familiar. The big boost was the beginning of the space program, when engineering masterpieces began to be developed and were sent out into our cosmic neighbourhood in a quest for further answers about the origins and constituents of our solar system and the universe. These satellites, spacecraft, rovers and other robotic equipment do not belong to the same category as the ordinary, factory-produced machinery that fill the lives of most Westerners, machines that make our lives easier. They are not produced on an industrial scale; instead, they are individual pieces, designed and crafted to mirror the scientist’s quest, possibly one to which they have dedicated their entire lifetime. Anyone not familiar with this scientific culture might think of all this astronautic paraphernalia as simply being pieces of metal, in a similar way to any other machine; however, this is not the case.
These machines are the scientists’ allies in outer space, “who” have been conducting fieldwork outside Earth and on behalf of the humans that built and invested in them with actions, knowledge, expectations and aims. They become the augmented extensions of humans, allowing them to reach places where the presence of people is prohibited due to the distance and inherent hurdles and dangers. And as this contingent of non-humans keeps growing and probing further into outer space, our knowledge of the universe keeps expanding and paradigms continue shifting. These machines underline the creativity and ingenuity of humans on the one hand, while also highlighting our limitations on the other. United together, however, some limitations can be circumvented.
It is due to the findings of this contingent of non-human aiders on whom scientists bestow their expertise that we now know a lot more about the material and immaterial cosmic context in which we live. Until very recently, scientists continued to contemplate whether water existed on other worlds or if it might be an Earthly exclusivity. Nonetheless, data gathered by the many probes sent into orbit and those landing on other cosmic bodies suggest that water is rather universal. Evidence of water molecules has already been found on the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, comets and other satellites like Europa and Encedalus, which orbit Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, and are believed to have liquid oceans beneath their icy crust. One of the main goals of current and future space exploration is to find out about the existence of alien life in the universe, either intelligent or not. As water is fundamental to life as we know it, these discoveries fuel the hope of finding life elsewhere in the universe. Further unmanned missions will be sent to gather more data. Additionally, since the early 1990s with the help of powerful telescopes like the Kepler space telescope, there has been the discovery of thousands of other planets outside our solar system, and the hunt for Earth-like planets orbiting a star in a habitable zone or ones suitable to be terraformed has already begun.
Our dependence on these machines to obtain data that provides information about the unknown and the invisible to the naked eye is so high and intertwined that it defies the limits of human/non-human relationships. In 2017, after orbiting Saturn and its moons for 13 years, the Cassini space probe dived to its death on the planet’s surface after running out of fuel, and a documentary entitled Goodbye Cassini, Hello Juno was launched to celebrate its “lifetime” of achievements. From inception to end this mission lasted 20 years, and comments made about the spacecraft by crewmembers that were interviewed when gathered at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) headquarters for the “funeral” showed that it was far more than just a machine. They were clearly all deeply grieving the loss of Cassini, treating it as if it were a person who had just passed away. Athena Coustenis, an astronomer and planetary scientists who developed one of the 12 instruments onboard, stated that “Cassini will be getting and sending data till its last breath…I’m going to cry my eyes out. It is a 20 year old friend”. For her part, Julie Webster, in charge of remotely managing the spacecraft for JPL, said the most difficult period of flying an aircraft is the first three years “because you are kind of learning what makes the personality of the spacecraft”. Indeed, Cassini showed itself to have an obedient and flawless character: “It was a great spacecraft, it did exactly what we asked it to do. All the way to the end. No surprises”, concluded Webster. The words used to refer to it, such as breath, personality and friend, clearly showed there was a relationship involving affection and trust, and that Cassini was considered a kind of human being.
Cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin echoes this form of affection for the Russian space station MIR, where he spent 185 days onboard. In the documentary MIR Mortals (1998), addressing the hurdles faced by the crew in its final months, Lazukin explains the emotions felt at the final moment of its decommissioning. When the dot that represented it disappeared from the ground control screen, he said, “It was as if someone had died. And it wasn’t just me feeling that, everyone who worked on it did. It was like burying a good friend”, adding that nobody thought of it as “just pieces of metal”. If in their perception MIR died, then we can assume that it was considered to be alive. This makes perfect sense given that space stations are self-contained Earth analogue environments, on which astronaut lives depend and that offer a unique perspective of what it means to be human in an extra-terrestrial context.
The robotic heralds that Western societies have been launching into space have collaborated in cosmological paradigm shifts and offered new possibilities for the future of terrestrial beings in alien worlds. If one day this becomes a reality, in keeping with the plans of the leading space agencies and even private space companies, the line between human/non-human will make even less sense, since to be human in this new context will imply permanently having/wearing non-human extensions. The line will then become irreversibly blurred.
InnovaSpace thanks Dr. T V Gopal for bringing attention to the use of drone technology in healthcare. The popularity of drones has been boosted greatly over the past decade, with huge advances in technology leading to drone weight reductions, lower costs, and improved capabilities and performance, particularly through the introduction of an autopilot, and softwares capable of analysing flight dynamics in real-time and ensuring flight stability. We publish here some of his thoughts related to the Integration Challenges of Healthcare and Technology with Drones.
The art of healing, the healing process itself, started with quaint symbolisms. The concepts of "Uniformity in Practice" and "Repeatability of a Cure" gradually emerged as the two dominant principles in Medical Sciences, and the development of new technologies promises to meet the expectations on both these principles.
However, the integration between technology and medicine is not a simple task. It is believed that the key enablers for this integration to happen are:
What an individual actually thinks and the creation of a memory might be recreated by the use of software algorithms that generate images based on recorded brain activity. This might sound like science fiction, but it is not. It is a reality for millions of patients worldwide for whom mind-controlled technology has been of great help to move paralyzed limbs.
It is a fact that scientists have been detecting brainwaves for more than a century, and this knowledge in recent years has been applied in the development of drone technologies, in which they are controlled by people’s thoughts. This might give a different shape to the relationship between medicine and medical technology.
In the words of Dr. Alexis Carrel, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912, in recognition of his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs, he said: “It is certain that a thought may be transmitted from one individual to another, even if they are separated by long distance. These facts, which belong to the new science of metaphysics, must be accepted just as they are… They express a rare and almost unknown aspect of ourselves… What extraordinary penetration would result from the union of disciplined intelligence and of the telepathic aptitude”.
The tagline of the InnovaSpace Valentina project is ‘Science is for girls too!’ – an ideal we very much support, and an excellent example of which is Space Physiologist, Dr. Julia Attias, who is a PhD Researcher at King's College London.
I had the pleasure of meeting Julia a few years ago when she was doing her Master’s degree in Space Physiology and Health (2012) at King’s College London, which then led on to her completing a PhD in Space Physiology (2018). Julia is passionate about inspiring young ladies to pursue a career in the STEM areas, and dedicates some of her time to writing blogs for websites such as WISE (Women In Science and Engineering), and a charity, GlamSci, aimed at breaking down perceived stereotypes and barriers to STEM areas. We asked Julia a few questions about her life and path to becoming a space physiologist:
What sort of child were you?
I can say I was a very energetic child and very focused on sports activities from a very early age. My Mum was a tennis coach, so from about the age of about 4 years old, I could be found running around a tennis court, gripping my first racquet in hand, on which someone had spray-painted the letter ‘J’. Naturally enough by the time I started school my favourite subject was PE (physical education), at which I was always very competitive indeed!
What were your school years like?
I was lucky enough to go to great schools; I enjoyed my school years and made some good friends. At primary school I sometimes used to get in trouble for talking too much, but in fact it wasn’t just idle chatter for the sake of it, it was my constant curiosity about anything and everything that made me ask questions and comment out loud - too loud sometimes!
I loved music (probably inspired by my Dad who was a drummer) and being in plays at primary school, and continued this on into my teenage years when I joined the Pineapple Performing Arts School in Covent Garden. I learned street dance, singing and acting there, and grew up wanting to be in front of the camera - this ambition I have since achieved through participating in a Discovery Channel series called 'Meet The SuperBrains' and more recently in the Channel 4 series 'Food Unwrapped''.
What sparked your interest in science?
Through all my sporting activity, the idea that humans are designed to move around was embedded in me from a very young age. I would run around the tennis court and wonder why my heart beat so much faster, curious about the mechanisms involved within our body that allow us to run and jump, and improve our endurance and strength. In PE we began to have lessons about sports theory and I soon realised that science was a field of study that could answer some of my questions, whilst at the same time posing so many more questions that still required responses. This hooked my interest and I began to enjoy the triple sciences at high school, especially biology, as I could learn more about how the human body functions. This really did direct the path of my career as I then went on to take a sports science degree at university.
How did you jump from sports to space science?
I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘space-geek’ and I never started off with the intention of a career in space science. I was never drawn to watching sci-fi programs on TV or films, like Star Wars or Star Trek, but what I really found interesting when I did my degree was learning about how the body functions in extreme environments, and you can’t really get more of an extreme environment than being up in Space! Quite by chance I found out that King’s College do a Master’s degree in Space Physiology and Health, and so I jumped at the chance of doing in, and the rest is history! There is an overlap between sports science and space physiology because of the fundamental scientific concepts that exist between them, but there are many other science disciplines you can study where you will also find this overlap, for example nutrition, medicine, pharmacy, engineering, physiotherapy, and many, many more.
What advice would you give to girls who are at school right now?
Don’t be put off by the STEM subjects at school and try to study some of them. You might have no idea at the moment what career you want to follow, but if you have some of the core subjects there it will always help you, as they always overlap with so many other areas.
Don’t be put off by stereotypes of the sciences and engineering being only for boys – times are changing and will continue to change. As a woman in the area of space science, I have to admit that I still see far fewer women than men when I look around the conference room of a scientific congress, however, I don’t see this as a negative - I see it as a golden opportunity for me to make my mark and to help change attitudes for the future generation.
Try to find something you feel passionate about – this will fill you with the motivation you need to work hard, be determined, and succeed.
And to finish off a few random questions...
Blog author, Dr. K Ganapathay is a Past President of the Telemedicine Society of India, Neurological Society of India & Indian Society for Stereotactic & Functional Neurosurgery. Emeritus Professor, Tamilnadu Dr MGR Medical University, he has 43 YEARS of clinical experience. He is on the Board of Directors of Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation and Apollo Telehealth Services – the largest and oldest multi specialty telehealth network in South Asia, an Advisory Board member of InnovaSpace, and recognised as a staunch advocate par excellence in promoting telehealth.
For more details see www.kganapathy.com.
I am thankful to Prof. Thais Russomano, Space doctor, for rekindling my dormant interest in outer space. 11 years ago I started taking my grandson to the terrace in my house and repeatedly showed him the moon and said "I want you to work there as a doctor". Who knows? This may actually happen in my life time.
As a 'Made in India', totally indigenous product, who has worked only in India, I am absolutely thrilled to learn about INDIA’S FIRST MANNED SPACE MISSION - Gaganyaan, scheduled for launch in December 2021.
The mission, which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech, is set to be a turning point in space history, as it will make India one of only four countries in the world, after Russia, USA and China, to launch a manned space flight.
The plan involves sending three Indians into space for 5 to 7 days on a Low-Earth-Orbit mission (altitude of 300-400 km). At 27,000 km/h, a spacecraft completes an orbit around the Earth every 90 minutes. Costing within 1.5 billion US$, this 40-month project will employ 15,000 individuals, including 13,000 from industries and 1,000 from academic institutes – and of course, Indians!! Vyomanuts (Indian astronauts) for this mission are likely to be selected from 200 shortlisted Indian Air Force pilots, with just 4 being selected and trained. The best among the superhuman test pilots will get the golden ticket. On the seventh day after launch, the crew module will re-orient and separate itself from the service module, landing on Earth within 36 minutes, in the Arabian Sea, close to Ahmedabad.
One of the six largest space agencies in the world with the largest fleet of communication (INSAT) and remote sensing (IRS) satellites, ISRO has already developed most of the technologies required for manned flight. In 2018, it performed a Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment and Pad Abort Test for the mission, while the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) has already worked on producing space food, and has been conducting trials on astronaut G-suits
Most governments are averse to taking risks. It is a sign of the times that a popular government, in an emerging economy is willing to invest effort, time and money in what would, as a knee jerk response by many, be considered “preposterous”. One has to have the foresight that early investments in space would indeed be a differentiator. There are incredible resources out there. The moon has sufficient helium to power the entire globe. We will soon have an energy crisis and we are depleting all of our resources here on Earth. Whoever controls the valuable resources found in space will perhaps control the world. Unless goals are set, we will never get there. As the late chairman of ISRO Prof. U R Rao once remarked “...a government’s approach is to avoid all failures, but sometimes we need failures to push the boundaries”. Space law (spearheaded by the US) at present mandates that the natural resources found in space can be owned but not the place itself — like catching fish at sea. This has encouraged the pursuit of space business and millions of dollars have come in from private players. Today, if one finds a rock with valuable materials (precious metals like gold/platinum), it is yours.
India is indeed a paradox. We have centres of excellence better than the best. We no longer talk of achieving world class, and indeed, in several disciplines, the world talks of achieving India class! It is true that we have a long long way to go. Internationally, an income of less than $1.90 per day per head of purchasing power parity is defined as extreme poverty. By this estimate, about 12% to 15% of 1.3 million Indians are extremely poor. Are we justified in denying millions of people good drinking water to satisfy an “ego trip”? In my view the answer is a resounding Yes.
How else would you explain a billion plus mobile phones in the country. We are in a stage of transition. As Lloyd C Douglas remarked “this too will pass”. The future is always ahead of schedule. The Gaganyaan mission when (not if !) successfully executed will have untold spin-offs impossible to quantitatively qualify. It will show every one of us, that the ISRO culture of meritocracy can be imbibed by everyone, that minute attention to the nitty gritty in everyday life is doable, that failure is not an option.
Manned space missions do pose health risks pre-, during and post-flight for crew members onboard a spacecraft or station. There are communication challenges for medical doctors monitoring them from the ground. Physical and mental changes related to adaptation to the space environment need to be monitored in real-time. Changes in clinical parameters and management of unexpected medical emergencies need to be addressed and prepared for. Removing the effect of Earth's gravitational force alters all organic functioning. Space motion sickness, characterised by impairment of performance, nausea, vomiting and a diffuse malaise, occurs in astronauts and lasts for the first 72 hours of a space mission. Normal process of bone formation and resorption is disturbed. All of these aspects still require further study and understanding, and perhaps the Gaganyaan mission can also inspire and motivate Indian researchers to address these issues.
For the last few years in all my talks I have been mentioning that India no longer follows the West. We no longer piggy back. We don’t even leap frog. After all how much can a frog leap! We pole vault!! A few years ago, President Obama warned American doctors that if they “don’t wake up” more Americans will start going to India for health care because it is cheap there. Indian doctors protested. They said in one voice “Mr. President, they don’t come to India to save a few thousand dollars. They come to India because our outcomes are as good as any of your hospitals. We are inexpensive not cheap!!
Just one more comment of interest...
Dr. K. Sivan, Chairman ISRO, within hours of the Prime Minister’s announcement, disclosed the appointment of Dr. Lalithambika as the first Director of ISRO’s Human Space Programme. Going by the number of women in top positions at ISRO, it is obvious that, if there is gender discrimination at all, it is of the reverse type!! Speaks volumes that Indian women are second to none .
Albert Einstein changed classical physics by stating that time is not an absolute quantity, but rather it is relative, as it depends on the speed of the bodies that measure its passage. This relationship to movement is called time dilation, where time passes more slowly to rapidly moving objects. To illustrate this theory, Einstein created a story about two identical twins, in which one travels to a distant planet at the speed of light, while the other remains on Earth. On returning from his cosmic journey, the twin who travelled is younger than his brother who remained on solid ground.
The Flux Phase theatre group has transformed this complex physics theory into a creative and entertaining play, which bears the same name as given by Einstein - Twin Paradox. Six actors give life to the Theory of Relativity, combining aspects of Einsteinian physics with the body alterations suffered by the twins after three decades of separation, and the emotional conflicts generated by a reunion after so many years.
This theatre group has already taken the Twin Paradox to various cities in England, including London, where it was part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch it at The Albany - my first play seen in an English pub. After the show, I sat down for a celebratory drink with the actors, who were already known to me, as a few months previously I had the chance to talk to the group about how the human body and mind behave in an extraterrestrial environment, and upon return to Earth.
I'm not sure how long we were sat there sipping our drinks on that hot English summer Saturday. "Time really is relative", I thought. However, it is not only the speed of bodies that matter. Emotions also affect the way in which we measure their passage.
(Translation of the original article, written by Thais Russomano, and published in the Diario Popular journal, Pelotas, Brazil. Version in Portuguese can be found at https://www.diariopopular.com.br/index.php?n_sistema=4059&id_noticia=MTM0NTg4&id_area=MTUw )
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!
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.”
Phil Carvil, PhD
MedTech Cluster Development Manager at STFC, and all-round fitness and Space fanatic!
My name is Phil Carvil and I recently completed my PhD at King’s College London, undertaking a technical evaluation of the European Space Agency’s SkinSuit, as part of their Networking/Partnering program, in which I investigated how the spine is affected by the axial loading properties of the suit. But how I personally arrived at this point, and in this career, is a little different.
My father got me interested in space science through astronomy and science fiction, while my mother aroused my curiosity about medicine through her work as an intensive care nurse. This sparked my initial interest in the fields of space exploration and human physiology. At school I loved science but hated P.E. as I had no confidence in this area and no real understanding of why exercise was good for me. Nonetheless, while at college a friend took me to the gym (nearly kicking and screaming) and it was from that moment on that I started to take part in fitness classes and group exercise, and began to become interested in fitness.
Around this time, I was deciding where to do my bachelors degree, which I had planned on doing in astrophysics, however, I was becoming more and more interested in what was happening to my body through exercise and why. What were the mechanisms for the benefit of exercise? How was it working? Did I need to do more/less? These questions drove my decision to undertake an applied BSc in Exercise and Health Science at the University of Chichester.
I loved the course so much I went on to do a Masters degree in Sport and Exercise Physiology. I was fascinated with learning how the various physiological systems, heart, lungs, bones, muscles, psychology, all change in response to exercise stimulus. But what began to steer my path more towards space was finding out how extreme environments change our body, how it responds to alterations in temperature, atmosphere and, ultimately, gravity.
To apply my skill-sets further I became a trainer, health mentor and instructor for Nuffield Health. Here I was able to train and work with a large variety of people, all with different needs and goals. It was immensely rewarding and I still teach classes to this day, however that curiosity was still in my mind, what happens to the human body in the most extreme environment – space? Around this time, I noticed that a new course (MSc) in Space Physiology had started at King’s College London, and it took me all of 10 seconds to pick up the phone and ask if there were places available. It was not long after this that while on my way to the course induction, I met in the elevator someone who was to become one of my best friends, Julia, who strangely enough had a similar journey to me for arriving in a space-related career.
Over the period of the course we heard from so many leading experts in their field about how the body works and changes, both on Earth and in Space. The MSc course is supported by the Space Medicine Office of the European Astronaut Centre at the European Space Agency (ESA), which provided us with a rich array of experts, contacts and opportunities. And in fact, the opportunity that led both Julia and myself to our PhDs was our Master’s degree dissertation focused on the Gravity Loading Countermeasure SkinSuit. (GLCS). This was a newly designed suit by James Waldie and Dava Newman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the suit sought to ‘reload’ the body through staged axial loading from shoulders to feet. ESA sought to understand if this technology could be suitable for use as an astronaut countermeasure. The opportunity arose for us to apply our skill-sets in exercise physiology to answer the question of how this suit affected the physiological response to exercise. Was it comfortable to wear? How much did it load the body? Was it thermally tolerable? These are important questions to be considered, especially when you are considering asking someone to wear this suit for potentially long periods of time.
It was this journey (supported along the way by some incredible mentors, friends and family) that led me to the successful completion of my PhD and where I am today, together with my key interests in fitness – why the body changes with exercise and a curiosity for the extreme environment of space.
For anyone interested, details of the King's College London Space Physiology & Health MSc can be found using this LINK. It's a one-year full-time degree course where you mix with like-minded people interested in Space, and have the opportunity to meet international experts who research and work with space agencies, like ESA and NASA, and you also have visits to RAF and Space Agency (ESA & DLR) facilities.
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