Are Humans Fit for Space? A ‘Herculean’ Study Says Maybe Not

from Wired

Here’s how you test your intracranial pressure in space. First, you collect baseline samples of your blood, saliva, and urine, and take ultrasound images of the vessels in your heart, neck, head, and eyes, lining up the scanning device on black dots tattooed on your body before you left Earth.

Then, you clamber into the Chibis, Russian for “lapwing,” a pair of hard, corrugated-rubber pants whose waist can be sealed. The pants suck: A vacuum imitates how gravity on Earth pulls blood, mucus, the water in cells, and cerebral and lymphatic fluids from our skulls to the bottom half of the body.

In space, fluids won’t drain, and astronauts develop red, puffy faces and complain of congestion or pressure in their ears. There are worse effects, too: 40 percent of the astronauts who lived on the International Space Station suffered some sort of damage to their eyes, including optic disc edema, globe flattening, and folds in the choroid, the blood-filled layer between the retina and the white sclera. NASA posits intracranial pressure is a possible explanation for what it calls “spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome,” and devised the test to measure fluid shifts to astronauts’ heads and eyes.

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11 Comments

  1. This article was absolutely fascinating and brought many things to light about space travel. While many who are not familiar with scientific biological terms may have a little trouble reading it, if you have basic knowledge of biology you will be fine. One of the things that really stuck out to me was towards the end of the article where it suggested the ability to remove, edit, or add genomes into the humans to make them more adaptable to space travel, based on the effects Scott had on his body, and others who have traveled to space for longer than six months have too. However, this could be a huge ethics issue, because the ability to edit, add, and delete genomes is really only available to a fertilized egg, before the baby is even born yet. The question of “designer babies” has been argued about for decades now, because scientists have found ways to alter genes to create children with desirable traits. It is not ethical to birth and raise a child solely for the reason of space travel, because they will have constant testing on them throughout their childhood and life, and they will essentially be forced to travel to space to test and see if the alterations worked. While that seems like the simplest and most straight-forward option, it will never be possible. Therefore, scientists will have to find other ways to test the effects.
    Besides that, I think this article poses many incredible discoveries that will be very influential in the world of astronauts and space travel. By studying twins, they were able to compare and contrast the two in the most accurate way possible, since they both were made up of the same genome. The effects that were found on the body will now allow researchers to be able to predict how these effects will influence other astronauts, and potentially the detrimental effects of traveling to Mars. Although space travel to Mars is not going to happen anytime soon, these findings are paramount in the ability to tell what will happen to the human body for extended periods of time outside of the atmosphere. I cannot wait to see what happens in the future of space travel!

  2. Clearly, humans are not fit for space. Do you know how I know that? I know that because humans live on earth, in an atmosphere where we can breathe and exist without having drainage issues. While space travel is valuable to human society (apparently it is not just a competition between countries about who can get the furthest), is it valuable enough to change the genetics of babies in order to send them to space? Mikaela talks about this above and I can not help but comment on that exact topic. Sure, genetic modification exists in the world, in the foods we eat. Should we really genetically modify children, though? What happens when a child is genetically modified before they are born and does not want to go into space? There is a waste of a ton of money.
    It seems really like a no-brainer to me. People have been going into space for years and while they have dealt with health implications, so do many people in other careers. Does that mean all children should be genetically modified for certain careers chosen by their parents? No! Absolutely not!
    As it exists, though, there is a need for scientific study before putting people into these types of situations. There needs to be study into the way space affects astronauts. With that study, though, needs to be study into more protective measures against the issues astronauts have in space. If scientists have the ability to change the genetics of a human being, I have no doubt that they have a way to change the affects on astronauts in space.

  3. And I thought everybody in space could run around in long-sleeved T-shirts like they do on Star Trek.

    Actually, the science of pressure suits, and the developmental drawbacks of long term space travel, are familiar subjects. Men working to build the Brooklyn Bridge got the bends by working in air-pressurized caissons in the East River. Men get black lung working in coal mines too. The dangers of space travel are well known, but we will still do it, just as we built bridges and dug mines. Because we can make these places safer, and we can adapt, as the story itself shows.

    Space is a new frontier, and a really challenging one. But identifying these problems is more than half the battle, I think.

  4. Humans are not fit for space at all. Not only does the study of Mark and Scott Kelly acknowledge the negative effects of long-term space travel on humans, but the idea that humans are unfit for space is something that could just be assumed. Over the course of human history, humanity has evolved. Through human evolutions, our bodies have adapted to the changes encountered by our ancestors that we may very well handle with ease now. Our ancestors were able to evolve into what we consider to be your conventional human now because the obstacles they encounter during the evolutionary process, were obstacles they would commonly encounter. Not every human is going to space. Throughout the year, there is only around a handful of trained astronauts or cosmonauts orbiting the Earth on the ISS. A handful of people experiencing an obstacle such as space travel for a relatively short amount of time if we consider the timeline of human evolution, it is nearly impossible for future generations to evolve for space travel in such a short amount of time. Just because humans are not fit for space, however, does not mean that humans are not going to be in space. Space travel is something that the world is taking much more seriously now that we are beginning to really see the effects of climate change and the loss of limited resources we choose to use rather than renewable and clean sources. Companies like SpaceX are beginning to take it on themselves to try and find ways for humanity to expand off this planet, as while this may be our home, we have run it into the ground. If not only companies like SpaceX, but governments were willing to invest more into space programs, there would be a significant amount of funding to help government organizations like NASA research and solve solutions to the effects of the human body so that humanity could venture off into space and populate more planets. While it may be an investment in which the payoff may not come for many years, it is far certainly a much better option than choosing to contribute more and more to climate change and effectively kill the only species that we definitively know to be a form of intelligent life. The article does prove it’s case that yes, humans are definitely in no condition to tackle long term space travel, but nonetheless it is something we must begin to invest in regardless.

  5. This article shows how far we have come in the world of space travel but also how much farther the bar needs to be pushed. With astronauts experiencing such pressures in their eyes and head, leading to permanent eye damage. The recent push towards a human journey to mars needs to be rethought. While the idea of long-term space flight might seem fun, like they said in the article it is dangerous and we have much to do before we are ready (Chin). The recent space missions have been a few months at longest 6 months, with over 500 doing this are well documented. If you don’t exercise regularly and at a high intensity the muscle deterioration could be more than one could handle. To the point where even the bone could be compromised. “The longest mission ever was only a year and a trip to mars could be as long a three years,”(Chin) this tells us that affects from space diet are even unknown. If the nutrition available to astronauts is remotely dense enough to support a human being for that much time in space. Because what goes into space the goal is to bring it back this would mean close to if not more than 6 years in a weightless environment. Even the air astronaut’s breath can affect them, the air pumped is slightly heavy with CO2 meaning affects on mood is common. If one is breathing the air for as long as 6 years, the phycological affects can be underestimated. With all of this information going against a trip to mars it almost seems as if we don’t need to build the spaceship rather, we need to make sure that the human will survive the journey. The reason this data is available is due to two brothers’ twins Scott and Mark, who both grew up to be astronauts. They conducted a comprehensive study on the effects of space on the human body. The worst of the results was from the genes of the brother, Scott, who stayed in space for the extended period of time. Scott’s DNA was altered and never fully returned to normal this is believed to be in part from the space radiation he was exposed to over that amount of time. This study reveals information that NASA never had access and even while it is extremely helpful it is only the reactions one man recorded in long term living in space. The human body is extremely complicated and it is extremely unrealistic to believe this is what would happen to all humans is the entered space for an extended period of time. The average human I don’t believe will ever be able to just buy a ticket and travel to mars that would include many risks that would not be worth the reward.

  6. I have mixed feelings about the idea of humans going to space. On one hand education and exploration is an amazing thing. Why not understand the space and world which we live? Yet, on the other hand because we are so uneducated on space, the unknown can be our worst enemy. One would even bring up the idea that “we cannot be the only ones in the universe.” What is out there in space can potential end us all. But this is all hypothetical which is why I am on the fence of this idea of exploring space.
    In the article Are Humans Fit for Space? A ‘Herculean’ Study Says Maybe Not, written by Jason Pontin, Pontin mentions that in the study of humans going to space, “Scott’s immune system was generally turbulent during his year in space: Many of his immune-related cellular pathways were disrupted, including the adaptive immune system, innate immune response, and the natural killer-cells that protect the body from cancers like leukemia and viruses,” (Pontin Par 25). This bring up the question of should we really be going to space if our body reacts negatively to humans being there? Maybe this study is a sign. But we will never know unless we send someone like Scott up into space to find out.
    In the study of humans going to space there as also been somewhat positive data that has come from in. Pontin also states that in the study of human space activity, “‘described the effect of space travel on Scott’s genes as “not just a sparkler—it was like fireworks in the sky.” More than 10,000 genes were activated by spaceflight. “To give you some context,” Mason explains, “there are about 58,000 known genes in the human genome, so we were seeing a lot of the body’s ability to respond activating,’ “(Pontin Par 25). Discoveries like this is a very fascinating thing, along with the other fascinating things space holds which has yet to be discovered.
    Personally, I believe that humans on earth don’t even know enough about the planet we live on. Humans are in fact ruining Earth day by day, yet humans want to be adventurous and see what is going on in space. Again, I am on the fence about space exploration, but what I am against is humans biting more off than they can chew when exploring space without focusing on issues here on Earth.

  7. There has been a lingering question for years that we all wonder about, “Are Humans fit for Space” and it has interested the minds of children all the way up to scientists for a long time. I found this article intriguing because it explains the process for how they analyze if humans are fit for space and it gives me an in depth detail of how they simulate this procedure and study it to find conclusions. There are tremendous risks using this lapwing because our bodies are not used to this pressure and can cause loss of consciousness. I found it interesting that these cosmonauts were willing to take these risks, which might affect their well beings, to gather evidence. These experiments pose a huge risk on your body fluid and blood pressure so checking these very often is mandatory. I believe these findings will have a great effect on space travel and the ways we can prepare and prevent such health defects that sometimes may be the outcome. These experiments benefit us because they give us projections on the effects of staying in space too long and this is inevitable if we want to visit Mars in 2033 when Mars’ circuit is closest to Earth as stated in the article, or back to the moon in 2024 it is important that we know the risks we are taking. Contacting universities to conduct genetic tests on the twins was a great idea to give more of an insight on what changes occurred in these experiments. Space exploration is going to be a big part of our future and helping evolve us as a society so it is important we find out these obligations before we make it a normal occurrence to ensure safety of these travelers. Space conditions are hard to test considering the fact that we have to ensure that long term space travel does not have negative effects on the body. These tests are prominent in ensuring safe space travel and will help our search in making space travel normal and familiarizing our society with other such places that can hold civilization.

  8. You can not pay me to go two places, one of which is space (and the other will remain nameless). There are an egregious amount of variables in space travel, not even just from space but from our interactions with it: from all the garbage to the congested atmosphere littered with satellites and the fact that if anything hits your ship/station at the speeds necessary to orbit you can die, I can not see myself reasonably going there.
    The potential pain, possible cancers from cosmic radiation, and body morphing caused by inconsistent pressures over long periods of time are just the tip of the iceberg. When I was growing up, I loved the movie Wall-E — especially seeing the humans who had been in space for too long and were bloated like balloon animals. We have evidence that this happens in the short term, looking at the experiment of Scott and Mark Kelly. One of the twins went into space for a year, and the other stayed on Earth. Quoting NASA’s report on the experiment, “Scott’s telomeres (endcaps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages) actually became significantly longer in space. While this finding was presented in 2017, the team verified this unexpected change with multiple assays and genomics testing. Additionally, a new finding is that the majority of those telomeres shortened within two days of Scott’s return to Earth. (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-twins-study-confirms-preliminary-findings)” While this is a small excerpt, the fact is that unexpected things happened which could be a view into the future of deep-space expeditions. Forget the existential risk of being smacked by an asteroid or vaporized by a gamma ray burst, the more tangible risks in space come from the fact that humans have spent millions of years evolving on Earth while only having sent a few generations into space.

  9. Before reading the article and just by looking at the title of the article, I can already say that humans are not fit for space at all. Researchers have found that It would take one million years for humans to evolve, change and to adapt to the environment (including new ones such as space). Humans (homo sapiens) have been around on Earth for more than two hundred thousand years and our ancestors have evolved to be able to walk on two legs over 4 million years ago. Imagine how long it would take for our body to adapt and withstand the lack of atmosphere, the strong light radiation emitted from the sun and the lack of gravity in space.
    I believe it is inevitable for us to have to reside and live in space no matter if it is “fit for humans” or not. At the current rate of pollution, usage of the Earth’s natural resources and overpopulation, humans would eventually have to colonize space and live there whilst also understanding and adapting to the risks involved in living in space. But as time passes on and new wonders are being brought to this world such as the company SpaceX’s advance rockets and spacecraft and their goal of “enabling people to live on other planets” make space exploration and colonization more and more likely.
    As mentioned in the article, I can agree that our human body would likely succumb to the effects of being in space. NASA astronauts Twins Mark and Scott Kelly conducted an experiment in which Scott Kelly went and lived in space for a year while his other twin stayed on Earth. After a year, Scott came back “dumber than before” among with difference in telomeres, lowered immunity for his immune system among many others yet those returned to normal in around six months. I believe that the human body is “elastic” enough to return to it’s “previous” state if exposed in a different environment for a short amount of time yet can’t stay in space in a spacecraft for a long time because our bodies would eventually give out and we would perish as we are not evolved enough to withstand the space environment as well as the space technologies is not developed enough to help us slowly adapt and withstand space.

  10. Space exploration has been on of humanities most accomplished areas of work. Who would have thought that humans would be able to leave the Earth and explore the place above the sky, out of our atmosphere. Before the 1960’s, this seemed impossible, but we have come quite far since technology has advanced throughout the many, many years. The question is aske though, if humans needed outside resources to get to space, where humans ever fir for space? There is a lot astronauts have to do in order to be suitable for space. They have to get samples of blood, saliva, urine, take ultra sounds of your heart, neck, and eyes. This is all before they leave Earth. Then, they go into the Chibis which brings blood, fluids, water and more down to the bottom half of their body, as this is what happens in space. Fluids in space do not drain and astronauts develop congestions all over. Ones who spent a lot of time in space develop optical issues as well. With all these different issues needing to be constantly checked before, during and after space exploration, if begs the questions of if humans were meant to leave the planets. While maybe they are physically meant to, there are so many measures taken to prevent danger and being able to explore more of what we do not know about our galaxy is worth the risk on possible injuries to humans who have accepted they might be hurt while out there. Space exploration is the human races greatest achievement and if we keep it up, there is so much more possibility for us out there.

  11. Space travel is becoming more widely spoken about and hoped for as the worry about climate change soars. This article speaks about a very interesting study that was done on twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly. The genetic changes that occurred over the period of Scott’s year-long trip to the ISS are truly staggering. The study mentioned that 10,000 genes were activated by his space travel and the radiation his body absorbed during. With the hype surrounding Elon Musk pledging to get us to Mars and essentially his becoming the spokesperson for future commercialized space travel has taken the spectacle of interplanetary travel to new heights. Just 52 years ago, the United States put a man on the moon, now in 2020 there is actual talk of a near-future with regular space travel. The main attraction that is pulling the public’s interest is the idea of terraforming Mars for humans to be able to live on it. This article highlights a very concerning detail of why commercialized or regular space travel just might not be in the cards for humans. The concerning details of the lasting effects on Scott Kelly’s genetic structure and microbiome are certainly now a focal point of new research that will try to correct these damages or figure out how to prevent them. I am very optimistic of the future capabilities of science and technology; 50 years ago, nobody thought we would have devices that could connect us to anyone, anywhere face to face in the matter of seconds. So, why would it be impossible for us to be able to begin colonizing Mars in 50 years? This particular sentence, He has proposed a “500-year plan” for space colonization, whose most radical suggestion is adding, deleting, or modifying genes to create permanent, heritable changes in a new species of spacefaring hominins, reminded me of the CRISPR Cas-9 article I read. If the CRISPR Cas-9 gene editing mechanism or one of the similar, less controversial alternatives, are found to work successfully and become widely used, this mechanism could be used to reverse the effects of going to space. With the exponential growth of the capabilities of science and technology, I think that gene editing, like CRISPR or Elon Musk’s proposed Neuralink chip will become normalized once they are proven to work as intended, and thus will be able to possibly address the issue of gene mutation in space.

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