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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 @09:09AM (#46098955)

    The solution may be much simpler than thought, Nasa only recruits High performing Individuals these people have a quite well documented need to perform and to be "busy" mentally or physically what they might need is couch potatoes or Mall security guards.

    • by JustOK (667959) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:40AM (#46099161) Journal
      Phone sanitizers, among some others, seem to be particularly suited this this type of mission
    • The key is in human evolution. We must use our limited access to space, and maybe some of our radioactive waste, to breed a strain of humans that are adapted to weightlessness & resistant to radiation. If we can create a whole class of people who can do nothing all day and live off of Cheetos and Coke, then why not this?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thanks Dr. Obvious!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:10AM (#46098963)
    That is why we need to adapt the environment to our needs.
    • Indeed. Until then, manned space travel will remain the second best way to explore and innovate.

      Off-earth colonies, whether lunar or Martian, would help the evolution of humans better suited for the stress of space.

    • by onyxruby (118189)

      Sure thing. We'll gradually get rid of this pesky atmosphere of ours and slowly adapt to more space like conditions. Of course turning the gravity and magnetic field down will be a challenge onlu hollywood can meet.

  • 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.
  • wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:13AM (#46098975)

    Millions of years of evolution in an environment with gravity has really screwed up our plans for galactic supremacy.

  • If got had meant us to be in space he would have made us with skin that replaces cells with polarized silicone and given us acid for blood.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If got had meant us to be in space he would have made us with skin that replaces cells with polarized silicone and given us acid for blood.

      You are just looking for a viable excuse for shooting your mother in law to the moon.

      • by ScentCone (795499)

        You are just looking for a viable excuse for shooting your mother in law to the moon.

        My mother in law is larger than the moon, you insensitive clod.

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:21AM (#46099017)

    Another problem identified just five years ago is that the eyeballs of at least some astronauts became somewhat squashed. ... 'We uncovered something that has been right under our noses forever.'

    I'm not a doctor, but if your eyeballs have always been under your nose then I suspect you have a pre-existing condition. Don't blame space.

    To be fair, in zero gravity, it's easy to get confused about 'under' and 'over'.

  • That's pretty damned squashed, our eyeballs are normally above the nose.

  • 50 Years is only a short while. So yes, there are challenges, but we shouldn't be surprised that we didn't solve them in such a short period of time.
    Regarding the radiation issue. How about we create a magnetic field ourselves? Energy requirements may be too high, I don't know. Just an idea...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:25AM (#46099057)

    "The human body did not evolve to live on ships, and the longest any human has been off Land is 437 days. Some problems, like scurvy, may have been overcome already. Others have been identified -- for example, sailors have trouble eating and sleeping enough -- and people are 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 5000 years after the first sea voyage. The biggest hurdle remains sea water. Without the protective cocoon of the ships hull and atmosphere, sailors receive substantially lower doses of oxygen, heightening the chances that they will die of suffocation. Another problem identified just five years ago is that the eyeballs of at least some sailors became somewhat squashed when hit by a boom. 'It is now a recognized occupational hazard of sailing,' says Dr. Barratt. 'We uncovered something that has been right under our noses forever.' 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 Madagascar. Another problem is the lack of stability jumbles the body's neurovestibular system (PDF) that tells people which way is up. When returning to land, sailors can become dizzy, something that Mark Kelly took note of as he piloted the sailboat 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 open sea. 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 submarine simulating a 17-month 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 submarine mission, but with much greater consequence,' says Dr. Beven. 'Those subtle changes in group cohesion could cause major problems.'"

  • squashed eyeballs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:25AM (#46099061)

    I have no trouble believing the human eye does not do well in zero gravity. Case in point, I have a bookstand that holds a book upside down, to read lying down in bed. If I read for an hour in that position, my vision becomes all blurred, something that doesn't happen when I read with my head upright or tilted backward at a slight angle.

    I'm pretty sure proper vision depends on gravity pulling the eyeball the direction the eyeball is used to to maintain its shape, i.e. down.

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      Or maybe just *not* having gravity drag your eyeball the wrong way?

    • If you had actually read the article, it's not about gravity's pulling on the eyeball. It's about brain fluids putting pressure on the back of the eyeball.
    • by smpoole7 (1467717)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

      The brain is intimately involved with how we perceive things. A bunch of experiments have been done, for example (recounted in the link above), one guy wore glasses that inverted everything -- he saw everything "upside down." After a few days, his brain flipped everything the right way!

      I can imagine that years with low or no gravity would do far more than just affect the physiology. This isn't just a mechanical phenomenon. It's not just a matter of distorted eyeballs or inne

  • Given that we seem to be not too far off from a future where genetic modifications, even in humans, will be increasingly common, it seems plausible that we could have a combination of genetics and cybernetics that will mitigate, or even eliminate, the effects of long-term space travel.
  • And, also, how will they solve the problem of "pandorum?"
  • 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.'

    Was it uncovered while upside down?

  • 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.

    Why not make the earth itself our spaceship? Once we find another inhabitable planet, dump half the population and continue our quest for space colonization (only now with 2 spaceships).

    • by Viol8 (599362)

      "Why not make the earth itself our spaceship?"

      Essentially it already is. The whole solar system is moving through the galaxy at around 100 miles per second.

    • Earth is already a spaceship. The problem is, we have no control over where it's going.
    • Are you suggesting somehow attaching rocket boosters to the Earth and sending the entire planet flying through space to find another world? If so, there are many problems with that plan. First of all, building rockets that big to move the Earth (but not shatter it to bits) would be a huge undertaking. Powering it would be another huge problem. However, let's assume we're built the boosters and figured out how to power them. We somehow overcome our orbit and blast the Earth out of our solar system. Her

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I know this is a joke, but for reference the energy required to accelerate the Earth to escape velocity is ten billion times its gravitational binding energy. Unless you give it a really, really gentle push you'll vapourise it before you get it out of the solar system.

  • "The human body did not evolve to live in space,..."

    Why would we expect it to function normally, there?

    • The human body evolved in Africa.
      Why do we expect it to function normally, say, in North America?

      Why do we even expect the laws of physics to be the same in two different places?

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        The human body evolved in Africa.
        Why do we expect it to function normally, say, in North America?

        Why do we even expect the laws of physics to be the same in two different places?

        Because for all practical purpose, Africa and North America are equivalent.

        As for the laws of physics, I was always taught that they are the same everywhere, even in space.

  • Radiation should be top of the list, unless we develop a somewhat thin metamaterial or something like that that reflects or absorb radiation (in the worst case we could rely on poop [pcmag.com], but may exist other options) anything that implies long time on space (like a trip to mars, or trying to have self-sustained colonies in space). But if this one can't be solved, that should put an end to especulations about aliens visiting us or we visiting other star systems, ever, same for colonize anywhere else in this solar

  • PersonFrom1420 submitted via church door nail, "The human body was not designed by God Almighty to live on the ocean in seafaring ships, and the longest any human has traveled has been close to coastlines. Without the protective cocoon of the coastal fish and shore leave, nautical travelers are subjected to Gout, Scurvy, and a malaise of the spirit that shall certainly result in dire consequence for any vessel attempting to find a new world to explore. In a Royal experiment, debtor's prisons are filled with scum of the streets, sealed away, and their outcome is surely the same as a nautical traveler who looks forward to a new life and possible riches from fruitful exploration. Also, if even one ship has a mutiny, NASA (the Nautical Authority of the Spanish Armada) should instantly force all manned sea faring traffic to halt for over a year, as various Royal Agencies, none of whom understand how to tie a knot, let alone sail a ship, confer over the loss, and consider halting this foolishness to focus on more incense swinging for the plague and merkin production at home. Certainly there is no profit to be gained in these new lands that are worth losing entire ships of human beings over, and there can be no future lands there that will ever be suitable for our children's children. May this missive find you in good health, Signed P.F.1420"

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      You appreciate that "not cut out for space" is just an attention-grabbing headline, and both summary and article are about how NASA are super psyched to be investigating and attempting to solve these problems?

  • 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 guacamole (24270)

      The issue is that you can't live in a car or live underwater for months or years. Likewise, almost anyone probably could spend a few hours on a space station without much ill effects. The issue with spending a very long time on the space station.

  • by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:04AM (#46099383)
    Natural selection got us to where we are today, a species adapted for the gravitation and environment of one specific planet. To address the multitude of miscellaneous physiological problems referred to in TFA, we need to start applying intelligent design by developing a series of genetic modifications that will give us a subspecies well adapted for microgravity.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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 sc

  • SciFi visions of space travel almost always include gravity. And it's not like it's hard to do: Build round space station, spin it.

    I assume there's a good reason why we don't make use of the principle to provide astronauts with some semblance of gravity. What is it?

  • How difficult is it to create an artificial magnetic field for the purposes of deflecting/channeling radiation (I ask this pseudo-rhetorically since it's likely very difficult)? Could it be done with inductor coils or ferrous magnets? Could it be on a separate spacecraft which could act as a blocker (such that spacecraft electronics don't get distorted)?
  • by nani popoki (594111) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @11:03AM (#46099859) Homepage
    In his novel Time is the Simplest Thing, he wrote [paraphrasing] the human body was not cut out for space travel, a man dies to easily from radiation when passing through the Van Allen belts. This was written in 1961 -- just after the Van Allen belts were discovered and just before the first manned spaceflight.

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