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Space Science

The Human Body May Not Be Cut Out For Space 267

Posted by Soulskill
from the until-we-reach-starship-enterprise-tech-anyway dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The human body did not evolve to live in space, and the longest any human has been off Earth is 437 days. Some problems, like the brittling of bone, may have been overcome already. Others have been identified — for example, astronauts have trouble eating and sleeping enough — and NASA is working to understand and solve them. But Kenneth Chang reports in the NY Times that there are some health problems that still elude doctors more than 50 years after the first spaceflight. The biggest hurdle remains radiation. Without the protective cocoon of Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere, astronauts receive substantially higher doses of radiation, heightening the chances that they will die of cancer. Another problem identified just five years ago is that the eyeballs of at least some astronauts became somewhat squashed. 'It is now a recognized occupational hazard of spaceflight,' says Dr. Barratt. 'We uncovered something that has been right under our noses forever.' NASA officials often talk about the 'unknown unknowns,' the unforeseen problems that catch them by surprise. The eye issue caught them by surprise, and they are happy it did not happen in the middle of a mission to Mars. Another problem is the lack of gravity jumbles the body's neurovestibular system (PDF) that tells people which way is up. When returning to the pull of gravity, astronauts can become dizzy, something that Mark Kelly took note of as he piloted the space shuttle to a landing. 'If you tilt your head a little left or right, it feels like you're going end over end.' Beyond the body, there is also the mind. The first six months of Scott Kelly's one-year mission are expected to be no different from his first trip to the space station. Dr. Gary E. Beven, a NASA psychiatrist, says he is interested in whether anything changes in the next six months. 'We're going to be looking for any significant changes in mood, in sleep, in irritability, in cognition.' In a Russian experiment in 2010 and 2011, six men agreed to be sealed up in a mock spaceship simulating a 17-month Mars mission. Four of the six developed disorders, and the crew became less active as the experiment progressed. 'I think that's just an example of what could potentially happen during a Mars mission, but with much greater consequence,' says Dr. Beven. 'Those subtle changes in group cohesion could cause major problems.'"
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The Human Body May Not Be Cut Out For Space

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:10AM (#46098963)
    That is why we need to adapt the environment to our needs.
  • Roll on! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:11AM (#46098967)
    A big spinning wheel shaped vehicle should suffice, albeit full of technical challenges.
  • Spin (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rossdee (243626) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:49AM (#46099237)

    Long term residence at zero G may be a problem, but we may not need full gravity (9.8m/s2) to be healthy, especially if you don't have to return to earth.
    Lets face it, the first planets we colonise have a reduced gravity ( Mars 3.7m/s2 and Luna only 1.6m/s2)

  • by ledow (319597) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:50AM (#46099249) Homepage

    Er... they do.

    Notice that most of the problems are associated with the lack of gravity (not generally a problem on a submarine), not a confined environment.

    You don't get bone loss as a submariner.
    You don't get modified eyeball shapes as a submariner.
    You don't get extreme dizziness once you set foot on dry land as a submariner (an experienced one at least)

    Sleep loss? Maybe. But saying you can't sleep on a tin box inside an ocean of resonant water where you have to keep absolutely silent is a bit different to a tin box travelling at thousand of miles per hour in the vacuum of space.

    In fact, if anything, it's completely the OPPOSITE problem.

    Hence why people at NASA don't see these problems coming.

    I'm just thankful it's not something more serious and obviously debilitating (if you're going to spend your life in space, bone weakness isn't going to be much of an issue - it's only the return to Earth that's the problem) or the whole "let's life in space" program might have been dead before it began.

  • KISS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:58AM (#46099319)

    Use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle - don't send people. Never send a person to do a robot's job.

    I hate to say this, because I grew up with the excitement of the Apollo program (you may have heard of it in your ancient history classes), but robots, or whatever you want to call unmanned probes or satellites, have done almost all of the scientific and practical work in space, and for a fraction of the cost of manned stuff. It's hard to think of a justification for manned space travel other than the Buck Rogers publicity or the science fiction notions of humanity surviving on another planet after some catastrophic event on earth. The former is silly - that's why we have sci-fi. As for the latter, anyplace on earth, including the South Pole or deep mine shafts, is a much more benign environment than space. We, or at least a few of us, could survive something like a nuclear war or the event that killed the dinosaurs, much more easily on Earth than on the moon or Mars. We have to prevent a mine shaft gap! (and the prodigious service part doesn't sound so bad either).

  • by zorro-z (1423959) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:02AM (#46099355)

    Agreed, 100%, the human body is not cut out for space. Certainly, like all life on earth, we require oxygen, we evolved with gravity, radiation is toxic, and so forth. Our bladders, for instance, tell us that we need to urinate based on a sense that depends on gravity holding urine down at the bottom; without gravity, if we wait until we feel the need to urinate, we need to be catheterised.

    BUT... the human body isn't cut out for a lot of things THAT HUMANS DO ON A DAILY BASIS. We're not cut out for flight; we're not cut out for deep water diving; we're not cut out for rapid movement on ground. Yet, with technology, we do all of the above. Absolutely, space flight requires far more in the way of adaptations to protect our (very) frail bodies than air travel, SCUBA, or cars. But human history, broadly simplified, is the story of us using our brains to overcome our manifest physical handicaps.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:20AM (#46099505)

    Explorers used to set off in a small group and be trapped for months on end (e.g. ships frozen into the ice) and not freak out. Perhaps Russian and NASA test subjects are being chosen from the wrong population for long duration missions. Certainly, NASA selects for the "test pilot, can-do" sort of person. As Tom Wolfe describes it "I tried A, now I'm doing B, and if that doesn't work, I'm going to do C". These folks are action oriented, and want to always be doing things (and NASA doesn't help.. they schedule every waking AND sleeping moment of the astronauts to get the maximum value out of the asset in space).

    While you may not want couch potatoes, you probably do want people who can tolerate long periods of relative inactivity.

  • Re:wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:29AM (#46099583) Journal

    Not to mention the universe's stupid speed limit!

  • by justthinkit (954982) <floyd@just-think-it.com> on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:46AM (#46099713) Homepage Journal
    The spinning is for the astronauts, right? Set up a spinning pod section that was designed for astronauts only.

    An astronaut climbs in and presses a button and the system compensates, much like fuel redistribution on a modern plane. Once the system is balanced, it spins up. Astronaut sleeps under gravity. Wakes up. Gets out. Time for next astronaut to sleep. Repeat.
  • by gmclapp (2834681) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:50AM (#46099747)
    Not only is this hilarious, but it perfectly illustrates how ridiculous this article really is.

    Better summary:
    There are problems with what we're trying to do. Some of them surprising. There are also probably solutions that we haven't figured out yet.
  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @12:10PM (#46100371)

    Incorrect. It is far more efficient to adapt your bodies to survive the environment.

    Then why do people build houses? Why were things like the furnace and the air conditioner invented? Heck, why was clothing invented?

    Most of Earth's surface is an unsustainable environment for humans, for at least part of the year. We only live on this planet because we have developed many ways of altering the environment.

    The "437 days in space" is a lie - humans cannot survive at all in space. The 437 days was in a capsule, a local modification of the true environment of outer space.

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