Every discovery in space has suggestion on life on earth.
Too often, the endless notification of new spaces launched, partnerships & the prize of returning to the moon & deep space over-shadow the finer advancements in medical research & technology that make a return to final frontier possible.
“How do you make sure astronauts are healthy & stay healthy?” Rachael Dempsey said, communications officer at the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), said at a conference Thursday at CES 2022. This is a valid question & without easy answers.
But if we get serious about expanding human presence & industry in space, a major incentive lies in the overwhelming benefits awaiting those who remain on Earth.
5 Major Challenges To Health Care In Space
There are 5 conventional risks to human spaceflight: “A lot can go wrong, but you can group them into 5 categories,” Dempsey added. Isolation is an underestimated risk during long duration missions in deep space. We’ve already seen what it can do during (and in some areas, ongoing) lock-downs due to the COVID19 coronavirus. Now imagine if you knew that outside your front door there is nothing but the endless black abyssal depths of a cold & inhuman space, forever. From a less psychological point of view, gravity fields are also a necessary part of human health. This means we have to find ways to compensate, which could mean simulating gravity.
Then there are the challenges of performing & executing medical care at great distances from Earth, when astronauts are forced to-give differential diagnoses & take-action on their own, because there is no time. for a second opinion of the mission control. Not to mention the immense cosmic radiation in interplanetary space, which can have drastic effects on biological functions. “As we solve these 5 challenges of spaceflight, it also opens up new medical & mental health innovations for humans who stay on Earth, ”Dempsey added. “Also think about people who work in high radiation environments here on Earth,” she added. Almost any medical breakthrough made for deep space missions also has the potential for profoundly transformative advancements here on Earth, too.
“Trapped in a tin can with 3 colleagues” to Mars
Biosensors will also become a crucial part of diagnostic & therapeutic advances in the near future. “NASA is a huge fan of platform technologies that can scale & serve whole myraid of functions,” Josh Ruben, CEO of Z3VR, said at the event. “Some of the best virtual reality apps are perfect for the timely & emergency scenarios” that humans will face in deep space. “We are looking for technologies that go beyond things like heart rate & measure a host of different health states & physiological responses, so the crew can assess & meet their medical needs,” said Asha S. Collins , member of the board of TRISH, at the CES 2022 event. “TRISH is designed to push boundaries & take risks in ways that NASA can’t really do.” And Dempsey added, “Finding the big, innovative ideas means we have to look at the business and even the video game companies. It’s just a matter of finding that technology & making it meet a real need.
Going to Mars with a few other astronauts is like going to Mars “with 3 colleagues. It will have serious mental health consequences,” said Ruben, of the unique and unforgiving physical and mental burden of traveling for several months from Earth to Mars. Ruben continued to say that his company has integrated an exercise machine for the ISS in a game platform, which has become a vehicle for addressing some of the mental health problems that inevitably come-up “when you’re trapped in a tin can with 3 other people for 18 months.”
Space Health Care Is In High Demand
Ruben also spoke of a new system that passively monitors eye movements, which has direct implications for maintaining the long-term health of humans in deep space missions. “How we keep astronauts safe on the way to Mars and during long-term missions” on its surface is critical, Ruben said. “We’re interested in sensors without a lot of wireless. Less cumbersome sensors & electronics overall – for astronauts they need to free float and not be tied to something like a desktop,” said Dempsey. The next steps for TRISH are to continue making industrial connections, despite growing rivalries between major aerospace companies such as Sierra Space. “We are building relationships with all commercial space flight companies, including SpaceX” & others.
“The astronauts we send on Artemis missions will be very different from those we send on Apollo missions,” Dempsey said. This includes not only the potential differences in maintaining women’s physical health, but also more subtle differences in bringing more than one human race into space. It is also “extremely important to take into account human disabilities and the special needs of people in space,” Ruben added. Suffice it to say that while the myriad of health issues for future astronauts may seem overwhelming, there are too many direct lines between solving them in space & improving life on Earth for us to back-away.