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Mars Medicine Space Science

Disease May Prevent Manned Journey To Mars 177

Pickens writes "Science Daily News reports that human missions to Mars and all other long-term space flights might be compromised by disease, first because space travel appears to weaken astronauts' immune systems; and second, because it increases the virulence and growth of microbes. 'When people think of space travel, often the vast distances are what come to mind first,' says Jean-Pol Frippiat from Nancy-University in France, 'but even after we figure out a way to cover these distances in a reasonable amount of time, we still need to figure out how astronauts are going to overcome disease and sickness.' Frippiat says studies show that immune systems of both people and animals in space flight conditions are significantly weaker than their grounded counterparts and that common pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus reproduce more rapidly in space flight conditions, leading to increased risk of contamination, colonization and serious infection."
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Disease May Prevent Manned Journey To Mars

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  • MiR? ISS? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:23AM (#29933031)
    Well, we had people on long term space missions on Mir and ISS that are comparable in time with a mars mission, without them being eaten alive by E. coli, Salmonella and whatnot. What was the problem again?
  • not possible (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jipn4 ( 1367823 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:51AM (#29933127)

    While getting rid of salmonella is good, you can't get rid of all disease causing bacteria. And if the environment you live in is too sterile, your body just becomes more susceptible to other infections and to auto-immune disease.

    Injecting antibiotics is about the worst thing you can do because it really messes up your bacterial ecology. Bacteria are a natural part of your body, and if you start killing them with antibiotics, things go wrong. Antibiotics should really only be taken when there is a serious infection present.

    In addition to artificial gravity (via rotation), the solution may be to challenge the body with other microbes that are known to be not too harmful, similar to "pro-biotic drinks".

  • meat (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cl0ckt0wer ( 973067 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:53AM (#29933129)
    Why do we care about sending our meatbag selves to other planets? I'd be more productive if we could just send some strong AI to do it for us.
  • Re:two words... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by operator_error ( 1363139 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:57AM (#29933139)

    Hmm, I was thinking those words were gonna be: selective breeding.

    Until that works out, I suggest we focus on telescopes and probes, rovers, and those things that float in seas of frozen methane. Also as a way to reduce our carbon emissions by using lower weight vehicles.

  • by v(*_*)vvvv ( 233078 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:58AM (#29933145)

    Maybe we're meant to be on Earth after all? The conditions seem just fine, ... for now at least.

    But please, send more robots first. They can do a lot more with a lot less controversy.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @06:09AM (#29933169) Journal

    Of course, by the time we have the technologies you propose, we're just as likely to have ion propulsion that can get us there in less than a month.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @06:13AM (#29933197)

    Boy how would those trips compare to early the first voyages to the "New World", except that they will probably be more clean, more antiseptic, and their health will be monitored much more closely.

    What's worse tuill now no one has pointed this out. What pussies we've become.

  • by Fuzzzy ( 967665 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @06:56AM (#29933297)
    The conquistadors at the 15th century were able to travel long distances on ships full of diseases, and yet conquered and eliminated the native civilizations of America. Diseases may be a difficulty, but they won't prevent space travel.
  • Re:MiR? ISS? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Neoprofin ( 871029 ) <(neoprofin) (at) (> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @06:56AM (#29933299)
    If they come home, dealing with people whose immune systems have been compromised isn't exactly a new or unexplored problem.
  • by srothroc ( 733160 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @07:08AM (#29933341) Homepage
    A lot (lot) of people died on those first voyages to the New World. Entire ships were lost as well. I don't think anyone wants to send boatloads of astronauts in an expensive investment without guaranteeing that they'll arrive in one piece.
  • Re:meat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sillybilly ( 668960 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @07:21AM (#29933373)
    You need somewhere to send yourself or life in general, to "diversify your portfolio", to not be "keeping all your eggs in one basket", in case of a catastrophy down here on Earth. In a sense you live for life, to protect life, and to maintain life. If survival of silicon/metal robotic AI machines is sufficient in your opinion as a form of survival of life, without survival of chemical machine humans, animals, plants, then you can just send your AI off to outer space. But the rest of us love nature, trees, animals and our meatbag selves, and would like to see our children, or whatever meatbag stuff evolves from them, and whatever stuff evolves from trees too, survive on forever. That's our job on this planet, so we can die calmly, making sure that others live on. You have a duty of self interest to make sure that you live on, but balanced by a duty of making sure that the whole lives on. What else is the purpose of life? To fuck, shoot, kill, enjoy yourself without paying attention to what and who you cut in the name of your self interest, and bring the whole world down with you when you get pissed because it's your time to go out and depart? You will never die in peace when you make yourself the center of your world. You have to take care of yourself as a taking part in taking care of the whole, but ultimately, you don't live forever. But life, and meat, in general, has a chance to.

    It's hard to say what happens when metal/silicon gets smarter than meat. I am meat, and I care about meat, and green plants like trees too. I chop wood, but I want to see trees in general exist forever. In a sense trees are my very distant siblings, and we share a common eukaryote ancestor going back 2 billion years ago. I also care about non eukaryote life, with whom I share a common ancestor going back to 3 billion years ago. Metal/silicon machines and automation that I create can help me get less tired and get things done that I can't do myself, and that's a big deal, but I don't want to make it so good that I have to fight or compete against it, because I know I would lose. One has to be careful with developing super strong AI if one wants to survive. Can cooperation between metal/silicon and meat be guaranteed forever? What happens when a smarter predator than us appears? Will we be to them as chickens are to us? And more importantly, do they get judged the same way during last judgment day as we do and go to the same Inferno or Paradiso that we do for committing sins?
  • Re:MiR? ISS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ihmhi ( 1206036 ) <> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @07:35AM (#29933419)

    Then I would posit that the first step would be a station or stationary ship, in space, to run a "no movement" drill for the trip to Mars.

    If it takes 2 years, then that ship has to last 2 years without any help unless there is an extreme emergency.

  • Re:rotate it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by etnoy ( 664495 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @07:47AM (#29933461) Homepage
    Works in theory, but a rotating spacecraft would in practice be a horrible experience. To achieve enough "artificial gravity" the angular velocity needs to be pretty high (assuming that the diameter of the spacecraft is much smaller than the diameter of the earth), which in turn generates a lot of coriolis forces. These coriolis forces are not very pleasant. Ever been on a thrill ride in an amusement park? Imagine being stuck in such a rotating thing for more than a limited amount of time...
  • Re:rotate it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @08:08AM (#29933525)

    Jesus christ, its captain obvious! We are talking interplanetary space missions. OF COURSE its not feasible in the near future. Any mission to Mars of significant size will require major construction in space. Duh. Which is one of the missions of our current space programs, getting that experience and ability. We have built a space station you know. In space, with construction workers, in space.

    What a retarded comment.

  • Re:Three words... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rvw ( 755107 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @08:33AM (#29933611)

    Your immune system responds better if there are constant challenges to it, which is what a diversified ecosystem does.

    Lots of sex.

    Without condoms (and with swallowing). Regular exchange of bodily fluids also keeps your immune system ticking over. Regular sex might help morale as well.

    No but yeah but yeah but yeah no but yeah no but yeah... ...but no

    because that may result in this []! And that's no diversity what you see although it may be interesting to watch this move around Mars for a while and it cleans things up here a little.

  • Re:rotate it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @08:38AM (#29933643)

    Not necessarily. Two masses tethered together and spun up would do it. Say a big heavy nuclear drive, and the crew module. You have a boost phase, then reel your drive out on the tether, then spin them up. He presto, fake gravity.

  • Faster Spaceships (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @08:48AM (#29933717) Homepage Journal

    The answer is to build a faster spaceship. We need to have nuclear powered craft of some sort. The distances are simply too vast for chemical rockets. You could spend billions trying to study all the ways to keep people up in space safely for two years and probably still screw it up. The enemy is time, so solve that problem, and everything else will fall into place. That at least can get us around the solar system, and there should be enough materials in that to build some sort of an interstellar craft for extremely long range missions.

  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @08:55AM (#29933767)

    By the way, if USA did not engage in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it would have the money to build that spaceship *by itself*.

  • Re:two words... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Saturday October 31, 2009 @09:58AM (#29934163) Homepage Journal

    Actually, yes...

    There are two basic possibilities here:

    1) low gravity enhances microbe growth. -- Eh, probably not enough in itself, since the microbial balance would probably still be roughly the same.

    2) if the environment is made too sterile, it actually encourages pathogens, which are normally kept largely in check by other microbes. This is actually the root of the problem with hospitals and resistant infections today, to the point that some are considering returning to a less-sterile general environment. -- Easily solved; just don't sterilize the equipment in the first place. In short, maintain the diversified natural microbial population, to discourage overgrowth of pathogens.

  • by Purpendicular ( 528740 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @10:35AM (#29934475)
    Bollocks. The US could build rockets if it wanted to. The US used to spend 6% of GDP on the military during the cold war. Britain spend 50% of GDP on the military during the second world war.
    The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are small drops in the ocean compared to such ventures.

    Also, remove 100 billion $ from the trial lawyers.

    And drill, baby, drill!

    It could also have done as Harding did in 1920-21 recession. He cut the budget in half between 1920-22. And the national debt by 1/3. The result turned out to be the roaring 20-ies. The recession disappeared so quickly that nobody remembers it now. []

    During the space race, 400 000 people in the US worked on the Apollo project.
  • Re:MiR? ISS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @11:16AM (#29934735)

    There isn't in a closed environment like a shuttle to Mars.

    I don't think that that is really true or relevant. Even the long duration ISS expeditions typically had only 1 or 2 Progress spacecrafts dock with them during the mission. I would imagine that any deep space missions would have provisions kept in lockers or modules that would be opened in time (i.e., whatever perturbations are caused by a Progress supply mission would be similar to that caused by opening a previously closed supply module). BTW, I have never heard of a cold or other disease being transmitted by an unmanned re-provisioning, and I think that the biological perturbations from them are small. (They do typically bring fresh fruit, but just enough for a treat for a day or two.)

    Now, the Progress or other supply spacecraft do carry an air supply that is bled into the ISS (i.e., the air is replaced over time), but this is done as an engineering necessity (air is lost), and would presumably have to be done on a long-duration deep space mission as well. In other words, I would argue that a long duration ISS expedition is just about as closed an environment as a long duration deep space mission.

  • Re:two words... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @11:17AM (#29934745)

    It's really simple folks: The first group of men and women (all paired up to have families) will NEVER be allowed to return to Earth. Their children (born on Mars) will NEVER be able to visit Earth, but if their children's children are fine and everything is handled properly, they may one day visit Earth. It's simple like I said: Bad things are going to happen, some of which will be genetic/virus/bacteria/etc related. Until the teams solve these problems, have a periodic drop of a couple or two (meaning a couple ready to start a family but have good technical know-how to contribute to the colony) every 2-5 years to keep testing the waters, blend it all together with the creation of vaccinations and the like, we are not going anywhere...

  • Re:two words... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @11:44AM (#29934925)

    Still, as far as radiation goes, people coming from areas of high background radiation, such as India

    India has a traditionally high population density. You need to find a better example that doesn't have enormous alternate factors for explaining disease resistance.

  • Re:MiR? ISS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kdemetter ( 965669 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @12:11PM (#29935079)

    Antibodies don't remain in the body forever.
    That's the one of the reasons that you need to vaccinate again after a few years.

    And also , pathogens mutate , so your body will have to adapt to it , in order to fight it . Which it can't do in this case.
    Offcourse ,that will only be a problem after years , not after a few months.

    And it will certainly become a problem if the trip takes generations

  • Re:MiR? ISS? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @12:19PM (#29935121)
    The ISS is a worse environment. Sure some things have been replaced regularly. But on the other hand, the ISS has been active for somewhere around 10 years now, far longer than any proposed Mars craft. Microbes have plenty of places to thrive for ten years. And we have prior MIR and Skylab experience as well. None of these indicate any microbe problem of this sort.
  • Re:rotate it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @01:22PM (#29935545)

    You don't need "one" spacecraft with a big diameter. You could use a small one with a counterweight on a tether.

    That counterweight would of course be made up of something useful like solarpanels, watertanks etc

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @02:15PM (#29935885)

    The constant challenge to your immune system is xray and gamma radiation.

    Dude, the immune system does nothing to combat radiation or radiation damage. What the hell are you talking about?

    The immune system also does nothing to prevent claw-hammers, crowbars, drunkenness, or stupid human tricks.

    Radiation and physical damage can compromise immune response, but they don't enhance it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @03:53PM (#29936555)

    Yup. And those people got on board expecting that they would die on the trip out, Investor let them knowing that a chunk of them would die.
    Investors also knew that a lot of those boats would be completely lost, and from the view of the relative wealth of the times those old boats were just as expensive.
    We also have something they don't. Systems which virtually guarantee that the mission will be a success even if the whole crew dies.

    But they were willing to take the risk. Seems we are not. That risk is part of the spirit of discovery and exploration.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen