Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Astrobiologists are now on the look out for solutions to unique human health problems related to gravity and weightlessness, as a number of government and private space research organisations throw open the outer space for tourism

By Syed Akbar

Hyderabad: Astrobiologists are now on the look out for solutions to
unique human health problems related to gravity and weightlessness, as a
number of government and private space research organisations throw open
the outer space for tourism.
Added to the newer craze for space tourism, India plans to send man to the
moon by 2020 while the US wants for human exploration of Mars by 2037.
With the number of space travellers projected to grow by several times in the
coming few decades, space biologists, who gathered at the ongoing 58th
international astronautical congress here, want a review of the human health
and performance in space.
Extended missions of exploration beyond low-earth orbit will expose humans
to environments and conditions that have never been experienced before.
Space scientists want to Lok back at the evolution of knowledge  and
experience related to human health and performance in space, and based on
the best evidence of today, will prepare for the anticipated health
challenges of future exploration voyages to the moon and Mars.
Dr Ronald J white, senior fellow in the Universities Space Research
Association, USA, has done considerable research on  human health and
performance in space.

Scientists from the European Space Agency are of the view that there's no
point in sending human explorers on long voyages around the solar system if
they arrive at their destination in poor physical shape. Long stays in zero
gravity are not good for the human body, they argue.
"Astronauts lose bone mass at around 1 per cent for every month they are in
space while muscles, including heart muscles, tend to atrophy despite hours
of exercise. Besides, space tourists will also face several health problems.
Most astronauts have difficulty walking on return to earth and some have to
be carried from their spacecraft. If this is the case with those who spend
six months in space, what if they had just spent nine months in space on a
transfer orbit to Mars, and instead of medical attention and rest they
faced the arduous exploration of another planet?" they point out.
According to NASA and ESA space experts, the effects of weightlessness are
not the only danger facing long-haul crews. Radiation sweeps through the
solar system, mostly in the form of the solar wind also pose a health hazard.
"On Earth, we are protected from this radiation by our atmosphere and by the
Earth's magnetic field, which also shields near-Earth space. International
space station crews receive more radiation than groundlings, but except
during solar flares levels are rarely dangerously high," they said.
Out between the planets, though, travellers are far more exposed. The thin
hull metal that stands between them and vacuum will keep out much of the
deadly hail. But it is hard to stop a really high-energy cosmic ray that zips
through our solar system at very close to light speed.
Scientists feel that the best way to improve human health and performance in
space is through understanding of the precise effects of zero gravity and
finding ways to combat them by drugs, diet and special exercises.
"By 2020 or so, we should know a good deal more about micro gravity health
problems and how to solve them than we do today," they said.

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