Key to spaceflight health may be the spin cycle

Rask at UNDA compact centrifuge may help keep astronauts in form on long-duration spaceflights – and a Mars flyby would be an ideal place to test it out, according to NASA’s Jon Rask, who lectured at the Space Studies Colloquium on February 3.

A common problem for astronauts is orthostatic intolerance (OSI), a condition that can develop when the human body’s alters its fluid balance in microgravity.  Sudden acceleration or prolonged exertion or can cause the cardiovascular system to suddenly fail to keep up, causing the traditional symptoms of OSI: fainting or blackouts.

As a Life Scientist at the NASA Ames Research Centre in California, Rask studies the performance of human subjects that train on centrifuge test beds.  In a series of experiments with the Human Performance Centrifuge, he found that daily 90-minute sessions on a centrifuge improved test subjects’ performance in blackout-inducing conditions.

How effective such a centrifuge would be in actual spaceflight is an interesting, open question, as on Earth, researchers can only approximate certain parts of the spaceflight experience through controlled bedrest and dehydration.

Putting an HPC-like centrifuge on a Mars flyby mission would take up a fair chunk of space, but only about 230 kg, making it feasible to fly along with astronauts.  If there’s not enough room for a human centrifuge, at the very least, the Mars flyby could carry a contraption for mice.

Inspiration Mars ought to do sample return

1390604225-526809A sample return mission is the best bet for adding science to Inspiration Mars, Dr. Mike Gaffey said at the UND Space Studies Colloqium on January 27.

Inspiration Mars is the ballyhooed effort lead by space tourist Dennis Tito to fire a pair of astronauts straight to Mars, around, and back.  The ambitious space shot would blast-off in January 2018, followed by a 7-month cruise.  The craft would speed over the night side of Mars in August 2018, then splash down back home in May 2019.

In the cruise phase, onboard detectors could help gather information on solar and cosmic radiation, including being a help in locating the source of fleeting gamma-ray bursts.

For Martian science, the ship will just be moving too fast!  Most Mars missions are robotic probes that can spend months to carefully study something.  In just a handful of hours, the best bet would be to scoop up as much dust and upper atmosphere as possible from the vicinity of Mars.

For the biggest value of the mission, Gaffey points to the human factor: the stunning potential of humans seeing the sun set and rise over a new world — and the teachable moment that will come if an intrepid pair manage to circuit the Red Planet just 55 months from today.