Hi all, Mike here again. Yesterday, I came across this very interesting article on the effects of nearly a year in space, by astronaut Scott Kelly:
Every time I see one of these articles, I note how journalists equate “microgravity” with “in space”. Of course, it’s a safe choice for the journalist creating the headline, since we have yet to see a situation where having someone in space wasn’t also a case of subjecting someone to extended microgravity. If you look at the effects they are discussing however, they are almost entirely the result of microgravity. By contrast, the potential cancer effects of the space radiation environment may only manifest years or decades later.
If you ask scientists and engineers why we have yet to implement the obvious, constant acceleration solution of a spinning, centrifuge-style habitat, similar to *insert your sci-fi film of choice here*, you will receive many answers, but most will focus on the expense of launching, and the complexity of building and maintaining such a construction (which is assumed to be both very large and very massive).
Many will point out how current exercise regimes (practiced by Scott Kelly and other astronauts), can largely compensate for some of the symptoms of microgravity, or that the current record-holder for the number consecutive days spent in space (437) Valeri Polyakov, was able to walk from his landing capsule to a nearby chair. This is taken to mean that Mars surface missions are possible without the complications of launching, building and maintaining a spin-gravity/centrifuge craft.
However, anecdotal personal experiences, such as related by Scott Kelly in the article above, and a wealth of scientific work onboard the ISS – the results of some of which were presented at IAC2017 – convey the complex, combinatorial effects that occur as a result of extended duration exposure to microgravity. Most likely, no drug or exercise regime will ever be able to fully compensate for the lack of gravity, something which has been present for the entire 4-billion year history of life on Earth. There is no indication whatsoever that what is significant after 6 months, and painful after 12 months, will not become clinically debilitating or even fatal after even longer periods.
This is a problem that needs to be solved, sooner or later, and what I always say to engineers when talking about spin gravity is this:
However complicated you think the engineering problem of implementing spin-gravity might be, the biological problem of trying to address microgravity effects without spin gravity is orders of magnitude harder, if not impossible.
Exodus Space Systems is a company currently in the process of building a new type of spacecraft which we believe is the best solution yet created for the space-debris problem. We arrived at this solution by working backwards from the end goal of solving the spin-gravity problem and the numerous issues it creates. It’s because of my PhD in Immunology that I see the implementation of spin gravity as a biological imperative for humanity’s expansion into the solar system, and it was the solution of those many associated issues that led to our unique design. This design will need to be prototyped at a small scale to demonstrate proof of concept, and the first use case for these small scale prototypes will be an efficient de-orbiting of space debris.
More to come…