New Discoveries on How the Human Body Reacts to Space are Here

human body, reactions, Space

We are on the cusp of a renaissance in human spaceflight research. With a surge in private citizens venturing into space and technological advancements in data collection methods, scientists are poised to gather valuable insights into the effects of space travel on the human body and mind.

Recently, a collection of papers was published in the journal Nature, detailing the physical and mental changes experienced by the four-person crew of the Inspiration4 mission. Launched in partnership with SpaceX in September 2021, this mission marked a significant milestone in private space exploration. The crew members underwent a range of molecular changes, dysregulated immune systems, and slight decreases in cognitive performance. The key takeaway from this research is the successful collection of over 100,000 health-related data points, providing researchers with invaluable information.

However, it is important to note the distinction between the preparation and testing methods of private astronauts versus NASA astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). While the Inspiration4 crew received training, their experience falls short of the rigorous preparation undertaken by NASA astronauts. On the ISS, astronauts undergo a battery of health tests, including ultrasounds, cognitive assessments, biopsies, blood and saliva testing, skin swabs, and sensorimotor tests. Despite the differences in training, the Inspiration4 crew demonstrated their ability to collect reliable data, proving that private individuals can contribute to scientific research in space.

Dr. Dorit Donoviel, co-author of one of the Nature papers, emphasizes the significance of this achievement. As an associate professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor University and the executive director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), Dr. Donoviel states that conducting research with private individuals in space is a groundbreaking outcome. The success of the Inspiration4 mission exceeded expectations, as it provided valuable data that could be analyzed and utilized for future research endeavors.

The Inspiration4 crew members themselves are not ordinary individuals. Led by Jared Isaacman, a billionaire who founded a payment processing company at the age of 16, the crew comprises skilled professionals from various backgrounds. Hayley Arcenaux is a physician’s assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Sian Proctor is a pilot with a PhD in geology, and Christopher Sembroski is a former U.S. Air Force journeyman and aerospace engineer. Despite their achievements, they entered the mission as spaceflight novices, necessitating the development of a testing suite that could be easily performed with minimal training.

To expand the scope of data collection and analysis, the Inspiration4 crew members wore Apple Watches, and the capsule was equipped with environmental sensors. This correlation of data provided researchers with unprecedented insights into the impact of the confined space environment on heart rate, cognitive performance, and other physiological variables. The goal is to move towards digitizing testing methods and implementing passive data gathering techniques, reducing the cognitive overhead on private astronauts. NASA astronauts currently utilize pencil and paper for cognitive tests, highlighting the need for technological advancements in data collection tools.

As the number of private citizens embarking on space travel increases in the coming years, gathering comprehensive data becomes crucial. The ability to understand the effects of spaceflight on a diverse range of individuals, including women and those with pre-existing conditions, is vital for ensuring their safety and well-being. The results from the Inspiration4 mission provide promising evidence that short-duration missions are relatively safe in terms of health risks. Additionally, this research challenges the perception that long-duration space travel is exceptionally dangerous, offering hope for future endeavors.

Several commercial spaceflight providers, including Axiom Space, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, have expressed willingness to collaborate with TRISH and standardize data collection on their respective missions. Despite competition for customers, these companies recognize the importance of contributing to a common knowledge base. Collaboration and data sharing among different organizations will enhance research efforts and broaden the understanding of space travel’s impact on human health.

However, the rise of private spaceflight missions also raises questions about the norms, ethics, and regulation of human research in space. Will private astronauts, who pay millions for luxury space tourism experiences, be willing to participate in scientific research during their time in orbit? This dilemma underscores the need for the development of principles to guide commercial spaceflight missions. Dr. Donoviel and her colleagues have advocated for social responsibility as a guiding principle. Considering the significant public funding and support that enabled private astronauts to travel to space, the authors argue that these individuals have a responsibility to contribute to scientific research. Wearable technologies, such as the Apple Watch and devices like the Biobutton and sweat patches, have made data collection more convenient and less intrusive. Researchers aim to minimize discomfort while maximizing data collection to gather the necessary insights.

In conclusion, the renaissance in human spaceflight research holds significant potential for advancing our understanding of the effects of space travel on the human body and mind. Private citizens venturing into space contribute valuable data, aiding researchers in studying diverse populations and addressing health concerns. Collaboration among spaceflight providers and the commitment to a common knowledge base are essential for accelerating research efforts. As we look to the future, it is crucial to establish principles that guide ethical research practices in commercial space travel. By prioritizing social responsibility and leveraging innovative technologies, we can unlock the full potential of human spaceflight research and pave the way for safer and more inclusive space exploration.

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