More Than Just a Year in Space
September 25, 2015 § 1 Comment
When confronting the problems of long-distance space travel we have the usual culprits: the impossibility of travel at light-speed, the minuscule breadth of human lifetimes (generation ships, anyone?). Science fiction already has all the solutions. Science doesn’t. But some topics even science fiction doesn’t seem to explore very often. What if humans simply deteriorate? What if our bodies are too fragile to withstand the unique environmental conditions of space? Late March this year NASA launched a mission to determine just that.
Most NASA missions on the International Space Station (ISS) last only 4 to 6 months. Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut, and Mikhail Kornienko, a Russian cosmonaut, are spending an entire year up in orbit. Yes, an astronaut and a cosmonaut are the same thing. I know you were wondering.
The goal of the One Year Mission is to see how human bodies would be affected if they were to endure a future mission to Mars (and beyond?). Due to the unfortunate lack of ships with hyperdrive, such a mission would last 500 days or longer. Scientists are investigating medical, psychological, and biomedical challenges that may arise. Muscle atrophy, vision impairment, and bone loss are among subjects of concern. The below video provides a short summary regarding the necessity of a good physical regiment while in space. Essentially, in a zero-gravity environment the human body is in a resting position, which is what induces some of the negative effects, such as bone loss.
Another awesome aspect of the experiment is what is known as the ‘Twin Study’. Scott Kelly has an identical twin brother, Mark, who is remaining on Earth. Interesting fact: Mark Kelly is actually a retired NASA astronaut. The two brothers will be the subject of several comparative genetic studies, trying to determine subtle changes that may occur as a result of zero-gravity. This is a joint effort between NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and has 10 different areas of interest. Among the topics being researched are things such as differential effects on telomeres, DNA and RNA methylation, and sequencing of the microbiome in their gastrointestinal tracts. These were chosen from among 40 research applications.
But the two astronauts aren’t just loitering in space for a year. They are conducting nearly 400 different experiments! The majority of these will serve to advance not only deep-space travel, but also technology on Earth. For instance, Veggie, a plant growth facility, helps provide astronauts with nutritious food, but may also improve farming practices down on the planet. Studies on the effects of delayed communication, especially in the event of emergency, may also refine procedure for Earth-based teams in remote locales. The Amine Swingbed, a piece of engineering designed to remove carbon dioxide and moisture, will provide astronauts with breathable air while taking up less space than earlier systems. On Earth, a potential use is the removal of harmful gases.
It will be exciting to see the results of the mission once it is complete. Undoubtedly it will help with NASA’s plans to send a manned spacecraft to Mars by the 2030s. And after that, who knows where we’ll go?
To learn more about the mission and its progress, check out this link: