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

    by AniVisual ( 1373773 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:27AM (#29933053)

    I'm sure that those people had constant refuellings with air over the years (maintenance). There isn't in a closed environment like a shuttle to Mars.

  • rotate it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jipn4 ( 1367823 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:46AM (#29933105)

    Why not rotate the ship for "artificial gravity"?

  • Re:Sterile (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ( 1195047 ) <.ten.yargelap. .ta. .sidarap.pilihp.> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:48AM (#29933117) Homepage Journal
    I'm not an immunologist, but the gist of your post echoes my thoughts. Provided the astronauts are properly isolated prior to a manned mission to Mars, I assume the risk of pathogen transmission would be greatly reduced. Sterilization of all food provisions carried for the mission would be assumed. I understand that we may not have good data on extended periods (read: multiple years) of lack of exposure to commonly encountered pathogens; perhaps the personnel involved would require an extended stay in a gradual re-acclimation environment following their return to Earth. To address concerns over illnesses encountered on the journey, I'd hope that highly trained medical personnel and provisions for proper treatment of a wide range of illnesses would be included in any approved mission protocol.
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @05:59AM (#29933149)

    There have been ISS Expeditions that have lasted times comparable to at least one way to Mars - Expeditions 4, 6, 8 and 13 at least. There is no microbiological difference between orbiting the Earth and going to Mars, so I would conclude that people should be able to get to Mars just fine.

    I still think that truly deep space exploration will require artificial gravity (i.e., spinning spacecraft), but this sounds like FUD to justify research funds to me.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @06:11AM (#29933187) Journal

    Look into what Bigelow Aerospace is doing. If you spin an inflated structure fast enough to get 1 G of acceleration, it's the same as doing so with a rigid structure.


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

    by sillybilly ( 668960 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @06:48AM (#29933275)
    The constant challenge to your immune system is xray and gamma radiation. Astronauts say spacewalk "smells" like a pine forest or sparks. Which is the smell of ozone/nitrous oxides. It's caused by radiation, it's like a locally generated ozone-layer, inside your spacesuit. Life, such as the human body, or especially Deinococcus Radiodurans bacteria, can still withstand quite a bit of radiation or oxidation damage and repair itself. The major source of radiation damage comes from potassium in the diet, from the potassium 40 isotope. Another similar damage is UV radiation damage, that still causes skin cancer here and there after all these millions of years of adaptation. The major source of oxidation damage that is very similar to radiation damage, comes from oxygen. Life cannot function without either potassium or oxygen, though you could clean up potassium 40 from your diet. But what's the point?

    For any kind of successful very longterm space missions one needs heavy shielding at least equivalent to the atmosphere we have down here on earth. More radiation (even living at higher altitudes with less atmospheric shielding, or even near an ozone hole region) increases the rates of mutations miscarriages and cancers, but also the rate or adaptation to new environments. One of the dangers with non-well-shielded space travel is faster evolution than down here on Earth. But multilayer shielding can compensate for that, and keep mutation levels to lower than natural.

    That brings up the question, that maybe lack of radiation is a cause of sicknesses, in a sense of not keeping the immune system well trained. People who live in a completely sterile bacteria free environment have very weak immune systems that lacks training. One still needs a flora to coexist inside the body if for nothing else, for composting intestinal contents. Those same bacteria can cause illnesses, if not kept under check by the immune systems constant vigilance. Still, as far as radiation goes, people coming from areas of high background radiation, such as India, don't seem to suffer much compared to people living in low background radiation areas. If anything, fluoride in their drinking water is the bigger problem for them, and background radiation is a relative nonissue. Perhaps a certain dose of background radiation is like a vitamin, increases health by keeping the immune system trained.
  • Three words... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @07:41AM (#29933431) Journal

    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.

  • Re:Sterile (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Patch86 ( 1465427 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @09:27AM (#29933955)

    Thats what I was thinking. Surely a small capsule with a handful of people surrounded by thousands of miles of near-vacuum is about as close to a clean-room environment as you can get.

    Sterilize everything, let them spend a blissful year or two in splendid good health, then worry about their poor shattered immune systems when they get back.

  • by Wingsy ( 761354 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @01:47PM (#29935679)

    Tie a rope around the crew module and the lander. Separate them by a few hundred feet and start them orbiting each other. Instant gravity.

    Borrow a superconducting magnet from the LHC and place it at the center of the 2 modules. Shields up.

    Now what's the problem?

  • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @03:01PM (#29936209)
    Because even more of them died when dumped on the shores of North America in their first year or two from something unexpected. And there's that whole colony that went missing, Roanoke...

Variables don't; constants aren't.