HUMANS IN SPACE

What happens to man in space?

astronaut looking out window

Humanity has long dreamed of conquering Mars. In October 2016, NASA declared its priority goal to send humans to the red planet by 2030.

Human physiology and weightlessness :
To successfully plan a mission to Mars, scientists must understand how space affects human physiology during long-duration spaceflight.

Current scientific knowledge leads to the conclusion that being in space unequivocally affects the human body. As in the physical and intellectual plane. In addition, the risks associated with spaceflight differ significantly under different conditions. They will be different on an orbiting space station and on a spacecraft going to Mars.

Physical issues:
Astronauts will have swollen faces (due to body fluids spreading more evenly). They will suffer from reduced bone density and mineral loss. This can include lack of sleep and sunlight. And also increased iron levels and impaired coordination. 

A NASA project to study the vision and intracranial pressure of astronauts has shown that many of them have vision problems after completing a flight. This is caused by the effects of weightlessness on the brain and cerebrospinal fluid. These disorders can last for years.

NASA Research :
Astronauts who have spent long periods of time in space have structural changes in their eyes. They have also been found to have abnormally high levels of cerebrospinal fluid in their brains. Spaceflight has also been shown to affect the delicate optic nerve endings.

There is evidence that exposure to galactic cosmic rays increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. There is an increased risk of cancer, central nervous system disorders, and acute radiation syndrome. And these risks may be even more serious than previously thought.

One study found that astronauts who conquered the moon were four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Compared to those who didn’t fly past Earth’s protective magnetosphere.

In addition, scientists are increasingly studying the psychological problems associated with spaceflight. Astronauts who undertake long-distance space travel – to the Moon, Mars, and beyond – are likely to be isolated in a hostile and stressful environment with other people, with no chance to return to Earth or to escape quickly.

Life on Mars:
What happens to our brains in space?

One of NASA’s neurocognitive performance experiments compared astronauts’ brains before and after being on the ISS for six months, using FMRI scans. The scientists found a decrease in connectivity of the motor and vestibular areas of the brain. These are essential for movement coordination in astronauts who have embarked on a long-duration space flight.

In weightlessness, the brain continues to send signals to the body as if it were in normal gravitational conditions. Then the body begins to think that it is falling or is in an upside-down position. After a while, the brain more or less adapts to the new environment. But upon returning to Earth, the change in reflexes can cause lasting problems.

A series of NASA research programs:
The U.S. space agency is conducting special studies. Scientists are trying to identify, characterize, and prevent behavioral health problems associated with spaceflight. The study uses situations comparable to those on Earth. Like putting groups of people in complete isolation from the outside world for long periods of time. This investigates sleep and fatigue, group cohesion issues, and possible adverse psychiatric conditions.

In 2014, a Johns Hopkins study found evidence of cognitive impairment as a result of the conditions astronauts are exposed to. Space radiation, which constantly affects people in space, has a particularly strong impact.

One study was conducted by UC Irvine in October 2016. It showed that exposure to galactic cosmic rays can cause long-term cognitive problems for astronauts. Including chronic dementia. In several tests involving rodents, the animals were found to suffer from both brain inflammation and reduced connectivity between neurons, even six months after the initial exposure.

The animals also performed poorly on memory tests. They showed increased anxiety and fear, with a reduced ability to compensate for stressful and unpleasant associations.

These findings have understandably raised concerns about the planned Mars mission. After all, astronauts will be out of Earth’s magnetic field, which protects them aboard the ISS, for an extended period of time. They may face increased levels of stress and anxiety, along with impaired decision-making skills and loss of the ability to multitask. And these are potentially important mental properties when working in emergency situations.

These issues represent a headache for NASA. Spacecraft offer very limited protection against cosmic rays. They can only be stopped by serious and massive shielding.

It would not be financially feasible to install an external protective shield on the entire spacecraft. The idea of protecting the isolated part of the spacecraft where the astronauts spent most of their time is more feasible, and might even solve part of the problem.

However, the astronauts would still be vulnerable to storm and solar flare events. These are not easy to predict.

Manipulation of astronauts’ brains :
One of the difficulties in studying the effects of space on astronauts’ intelligence, particularly space radiation, is that many of the factors that affect them are due to the stressful environment of the spacecraft. These factors include many problems. These include disturbed sleep, heavy mental load, high levels of carbon dioxide, and microgravity. On average, astronauts sleep less than 6 hours per night. And they must concentrate and train for several hours a day.

A typical Mars expedition would last about three years. That means astronauts will be in a confined space with a group of people for a very long time. Without the ability to communicate in real time with family and friends from Earth. Several companies, commissioned by NASA, are currently developing both drugs and a variety of techniques to overcome these problems.

In a situation where astronauts learn to resolve their interpersonal conflicts only through computer therapy and psychoactive substances, it will be difficult to predict what might happen if these methods are ineffective or addictive. Will astronauts be able to cooperate and work effectively for months if they are dependent on these treatments?

In the future:
Space travel has captured humanity’s imagination for centuries. And the emerging opportunities and resources to send people into space will be hard to resist.

These efforts will only accelerate research into the effects of space on human neurology and physiology. And it will allow us to find ways in which our brains and bodies will adapt to environments remote and different from Earth. Where all of our evolutionary history has taken place.

They may also lead to the consideration of more expensive technical solutions. Like the use of artificial gravity for Earth-to-Mars and Mars-to-Earth travel. Or faster flight (albeit expensive in terms of energy, but capable of reaching Mars in less than three months). Or perhaps building comfortable, large underground living structures on Mars.

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