Cosmic Corner

The Serious Side (Effects) of Space Travel


This spectacular age of technology we live in is particularly exciting as it opens up new potential opportunities for manned space exploration. So far, the moon is the only object in outer space (besides the ISS) that has been graced by the presence of humankind, but NASA is continually working to make the dream of a manned Mars mission a reality.

Of course, there are many obstacles standing in the way of this mission, however, professionals from hundreds of practices are working together to make the project a reality. Although a manned mission may be years into the future, the decades of dedicated research being put into it will mean that when the time finally arises for such a mission to take place, we can rest assured that everything will be as safe and efficient as possible.

The biggest concern involving a trip to Mars is obviously the safety of the astronauts involved, and this is an area that requires further attention. Until recently, the longest period of  time spent in space by an astronaut has been the six month intervals on the ISS. Now, however, thanks to the famous ‘NASA Twins Study’, we have gleaned more insight into what longer spans of space travel will be like. This study involved sending one identical twin into space for an entire year, and then comparing any changes in his body and DNA with that of his identical twin brother, who remained on Earth.

The Twins Study was actually geared towards understanding a Mars manned mission, allowing scientists to study longer-term effects of space travel on the human body. The preliminary research results from this study were first debuted on January 23, 2017, however, research analysis is still underway, and the full results are currently incomplete.

Although the experimental data has yet to reveal what changes have occurred, NASA does provide brief documentation on what challenges will face individual astronaut health while on an extended journey through space. Five key elements that contribute to the well being of the astronaut are listed: gravity fields, isolation/confinement, hostile/closed environments, space radiation, and distance from earth.

Isolation and closed environments both contribute to the mental well-being of the person, and are equally as important as physical factors, particularly on such a long journey. Distance from earth provides a different sort of obstacle: it takes twenty minutes for a signal to reach Earth from Mars, which implies a necessary independence in case of unforeseen difficulty. Perhaps the most dangerous aspects of an extended journey are gravity fields and space radiation. The shock on a person’s body from leaving Earth’s gravity, to spending six months weightless on the journey, to then adjusting to the weak gravity of Mars (which is 1/3 that of Earth) is enormous, and has potential negative impacts including intense bone loss, vision problems, kidney stones, and dehydration. Space radiation can cause even worse problems, including an increased risk of cancer, permanent damage to the central nervous system, radiation sickness, and degenerative issues.

NASA is currently working on finding the best ways to minimize the effects of space travel on the human body, so that when the time arises, we can boldly go where no man has gone before!

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