To Infinity and Beyond
In the year 2032, a space based community referred to as Mars One will be landing on Mars. In order to build a sustainable community, Mars One aims to establish a permanent human settlement and create a habitable living space. Their ultimate goal is to make this small mission a global mission that will eventually lead to multiple habitations in the extra-terrestrial sphere.
While all my childhood fantasies of becoming an astronaut and jumping beyond gravity are finally being fulfilled, sending people to Mars is a huge undertaking. Although there is a lot of work behind the scenes, space travel seems almost effortless. From a screen, one would see a spaceship taking off, soaring through the atmosphere, and then suddenly flying through space. Astronauts are floating around like they can accomplish anything and it’s all very thrilling to watch. Yet, as glamorous as it sounds to leave all the materialism and, insert any other satirical word you like, of this world, there are many risks associated with space travel. The effects that the travel can have on a person’s body are immediate and upon landing, there is a lot that Mars One participants will need to do in order to maintain their health.
Research done after the Apollo missions in the 1970s opened up a world of data that provided us with an important piece of information about space travel: When in areas of reduced gravity, our body will immediately react with a reduced heart rate, oxygen consumption, and metabolic rate. To counteract these effects, it would be helpful to perform exercise so that you can offset the effects that microgravity has on our bodies.
While these three effects might not seem so threatening, we should acknowledge why these changes would occur in space. Earth is the only planet that we know of right now that is ideal for sustaining life. It has the perfect amount of water that will sustain us, there is not too much that is covering mountains and not too little in the desert that it will dry up. Ironic, right? The habitat was formed through existing the optimal distance from the sun, providing the necessary climate and living conditions. What makes planet Earth so ideal for human life could merely be its lucky position in the solar system.
Additionally, Earth is blocked by Jupiter that protects us from any debris that could land on Earth if it was not there.
Earth’s tectonic plates actually allow for proper regulation of carbon dioxide, Venus, on the other hand, has no water or tectonic plates and it is a lot less geologically interesting. As much as Earth may be small, it is the generator of the statement” good things come in small packages” as if Earth was any larger it would be too hot for sustainability. So, if we think about the concept of space travel, it is not like jumping in our cars, turning on The Proclaimers and taking a road trip. Space travel requires leaving a completely comfortable and viable environment that is made perfectly for us and entering one that runs its own course and has its own particular atmospheric conditions.
On Earth, our body temperatures are about 37 degrees Celsius, yet when entering a weightless environment our core body temperature becomes increased. The increase in even one degree of our body’s temperature can lead to a decrease in interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, which is an anti-inflammatory in our body and is integral to our general immune system function. The slight change in one’s body can impair our physical and cognitive performance, which could translate into the astronaut failing to get to space safely.
A common association with space travel is that there is no gravity. The effects of microgravity can also have a heavy impact on our bones, especially when it comes to extended time in space. Using a dual energy x-ray to examine the bone densities and mineral content of astronauts, after returning home, scientists saw that they lost a lot of their lower body skeletal functions, mostly in the pelvic bone, lumbar vertebrae, and proximal femur.
The results that were found in the changes of bone density, as well as their calcium balance, showed a correlation between these symptoms and the condition called osteopenia. Osteopenia is the stage right before someone gets diagnosed with osteoporosis and is still concerning for one’s bone stability and aptitude to perform the activities they are used to. There is an overall loss in limb muscles and although aerobic exercises can help maintain our abilities, the long-term space travel will still affect our motion sickness, which could lead to a lifelong prescription for Dramamine.
Astronaut Scott Kelly traveled to space in 2015 for 340 days, leaving his identical twin brother, Mark, behind. When they were reunited, Scott had grown two inches taller than Mark. Cool, right? However, after research was done, it was shown that an immediate effect of space travel is spinal elongation and back pain. This elongation could result in almost 2 years of therapy post space travel just for us to regain full function.
Usually space travel is not thought to be long. Astronauts get to the moon, put a flag down and then head on back to earth, right? The long-term exposure to radiation that astronauts are subject to during their trips and missions can lead to loss of control as well as cancer risks to one’s immune system. surprisingly this can be easily fixed through proper shielding for aircrafts. Ironically, although it is simple to repair, it is not because of the costs and the lack of research that has been done in the field in order to prove to creators that it is useful.
One small step for man, more like one large leap towards months of rehabilitation for those going to space. Star Wars, Star trek, The Martian and even Space Jam, all icons that we grew up on, and are still being exposed to, make space seem like a journey to reach for. We romanticize the ability to fly around like Iron Man with no gravity, and that having a Wallee-like wingman is a goal to achieve, but it is not necessarily as glamorous as the movies portray. Although traveling to space, creating a community, and trying to maintain life may be a huge step for our scientific world and mankind, there are things to consider before we trade in the many different functions and pleasures in life that we take for granted.