Monday, 9 July 2012

Space, the health issue

Like it or not people out there think the next big thing is space travel or exploration, I mentioned this about how they are building a space port for potential space tourists. Its already decided and that people are making this happen, it stands to reason that we kind of need the full facts of exposure to space. I like the fact when you go from an environment with gravity enriched with oxygen and nitrogen mix. You need technology to allow you to exist in the extreme environment of space.

Potentially the success space tourism will allow pave the way to factories in space and mining colonies on other worlds. Soviet Union is already investigating space manufacturing with its Soyuz space-lab station. The unique environment of space could potentially provide excellent conditions of a hard vacuum and micro gravity. Growth of crystals, improved semiconductor wafers and micro encapsulation are considered early candidates. Though most electronics and pharmaceutical companies, don't have a space program. It is likely that the commercial space program will attract investors who might have links with manufactures seeking to expand.

The effect of space on the human body comes immediately, human beings are equipped  various mechanisms to oppose gravity to maintain sufficient blood flow to the brain. In a micro gravity environment, the distribution of body fluid alters since it is free from gravitational effects. This fluid shift symptoms are stuffy nose and headaches.

Bones are systems that are involved in the maintaining posture. The adult body has 1 kilo to 1.2 kilos of calcium and 400 to 500 of phosphorus. however once gravitational stress is removed, the  body excessively excretes bone calcium and phosphorus through urine and faeces. It seems that 3.2% of average bone loss occurred after nearly 10 days of weightlessness. To countermeasure this massive bone loss it is recommended that regular exercise with the treadmill and ergo meter.

The effects of space on muscle can rapidly deteriorate or cause muscle atrophy, due to lack of use in a gravity free environment. Simple maneuvers, such as walking across the room can be easily executed by pushing  a wall and floating by the area you want.
Significantly alteration in the hematologic system in micro gravity is the transformation of red blood cells, the main component of blood. Blood cells change shape from a bioconcave discoid shape, to a spherical shape. however it can be reversed even after long term space missions once returned to the Earth.
Radiation commonly exist in a space environment. On Earth we are protected by a magnetic field and a thick atmosphere. Due to the absence of this shielding in a space environment, astronauts are exposed to large amounts of cosmic rays and any stray particles (mostly protons). Nasa have ideas to shield low to medium energy rays using hydrogen rich plastics. Also water could be another material to shield astronauts, in extreme space conditions or solar wind activity.
Contradictory to the harmful effects of space exposure to muscle and cardiovascular systems, Dr Nathaniel Szewczyk at the University of Nottingham found that microscopic worms left out in the International space station for over 9 years after returning to earth have lived longer then the control group who stayed in the labs. He has found microgravity lowered buildup of toxic proteins in aging muscles, also genes related to controlling metabolic rates a have been lowered. It is said that the worms have adapted to the change in its environment and can be seen as space-flight slows the process of aging.

With positive and negative points of long term exposure to space-flight I am incline to believe that space tourism might be a flight of fancy. And that more research is needed to find the health factors in long term missions. Though if longevity can be sustained in humans it might be an answer for people who are rich enough to have a health care hospital orbiting the Earth. My own thoughts are that space will bring a future that will broadly change the industry through manufacturing and mining for new materials. I have a suspicion that Tourism will help build a infrastructure of industry and that it will spawn new factories in space for the electronics and pharmaceutical companies. But I also think the heath issues of space travel needs to be addressed with proper shielding. Without this there is a high risk of ration sickness or cancer, such exposure might call for hazard pay.

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