NASA and China plan to send astronauts to Mars for the first time in history in 2033, which is the next decade. To ensure that astronauts can manage waste and have adequate food and drink for the months-long passage to and from Mars, among other logistical and technological obstacles, this offers a number of challenges.
Of course, there is also the issue of the astronauts’ health and safety as they will be spending months in space and will be subject to microgravity and cosmic radiation.
There are even worries that humans won’t be able to adjust to Martian gravity after spending months in microgravity.
ANU space medicine specialists created a mathematical model to forecast if astronauts can safely go to Mars and carry out their tasks after they get on the Red Planet in order to ascertain whether these concerns are warranted.
Along with all the other preparations that must be made before people land on Mars, this model may be of great value. Future short- and long-duration missions that send people well beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and the Earth-Moon system might likewise be evaluated using this method.
Recently, an article outlining their mathematical model and results was published in npj Microgravity, a publication run by Nature.
Dr. Lex van Loon, a Research Fellow from the ANU College of Health and Medicine, served as the team’s leader (CHM). He and his colleagues remark in their analysis that while there are many possible risks for trips to Mars, the astronauts’ stay in microgravity poses perhaps the biggest risk.
The event will result in significant physical alterations in their bodies when combined with harmful radiation from the Sun and other cosmic sources.
Microgravity is known to impair organ function, vision, and the cardiopulmonary system, which includes the heart and its capacity to pump blood through the body’s network of arteries and veins, according to extensive research carried out aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Their work is crucial for the developing commercial space industry as well, as Van Loon explained in a news release from the Australian National University:
“We know it takes around six to seven months to get to Mars, and during that time, the weightlessness experienced during zero gravity space travel may damage the shape of your blood vessels or the strength of your heart.
We want to employ mathematical models to forecast if someone is suitable to go to Mars because with the growth of commercial space flight companies like Space X and Blue Origin, there is greater opportunity for wealthy but not necessarily healthy people to go into space.”
Dr. Emma Tucker, an astrophysicist and emergency medicine registrar who is also a co-author of the study, warned that a lengthy stay in zero gravity may make the heart sluggish since it doesn’t have to exert as much energy to defy gravity and pump blood throughout the body.
“Gravity pulls fluid to the lower part of our bodies when we’re on Earth, which is why some people experience swelling in their legs as the day wears on.
The fluid moves to the upper half of your body when you are in space since there is no longer any gravitational force on you, which causes the body to react as though there is too much fluid there.
You begin to go to the bathroom frequently as a result, you start eliminating extra fluid, you stop feeling thirsty, and you stop drinking as much, which causes you to become dehydrated in space.”
This, according to Tucker, explains why astronauts leaving the ISS are observed fainting when they land on the ground again or needing wheelchair transportation.
The longer they are in space, the more probable it is that they will crash back to Earth and the more challenging it will be to adjust to Earth’s gravity.
The NASA Twins Study involved Mark Kelly, who spent nearly a year in space and returned with excruciating pain, edema, and other symptoms (as he described in his book Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery).
There is a further challenge given by the communication delay between Earth and Mars for missions headed towards Mars. These pauses can last up to 20 minutes depending on how the Sun, Earth, and Mars are aligned, therefore astronauts must be capable of carrying out their tasks without help from mission controllers or support teams right away (which includes medical emergencies).
Van Loon stated as follows:
“There won’t be anyone on Mars to assist an astronaut if they faint when they first exit the spaceship or if they have a medical issue.
Because of this, we must be confident that the astronaut is physically capable of flying and can adjust to Mars’ gravitational field.
During those important first few minutes, they must be able to function successfully and efficiently with the least amount of assistance.”
To mimic the hazards involved with journeying to Mars, their model uses a machine learning technique based on astronaut data obtained from previous Expeditions at the ISS and the Apollo missions.
Testing revealed that it was capable of simulating important cardiovascular hemodynamic changes during extended spaceflight as well as those caused by various gravity and fluid loading situations. The findings are also promising since they show that astronauts can still operate even after spending months in microgravity.
The researchers want to enhance the model’s capabilities by adding data from commercial spaceflight, even if the present version is informed by information from middle-aged, well-trained astronauts.
Their ultimate objective is to develop a model that can replicate the effects of protracted space flight on relatively healthy people who already have cardiac issues (in other words, untrained civilians). They anticipate that this model will present a more complete picture of what would transpire if a member of the general public traveled to space.
Given the amount of celebrities who have lately traveled to space, it would make logical to develop further improvements that take age-related health concerns into account (Wally Funk, William Shatner, Laura Shepard, Richard Branson, etc.).
The future? It could be able to model how long-term exposure to microgravity affects a child’s and a fetus’s growth. If we ever want to send people to the Moon, Mars, and other planets to live, this study is essential.