Heartache: Cosmic Radiation May Crimp Off World Adventures

Posted by on Apr 11, 2011 in Health, Video | 0 comments

Space travel could be bad for astronauts’ arteries from uabnews on Vimeo.

As glorious as it would be to embrace the heavens above and set foot upon extra terrestrial soils, we need to face the reality that space is not for the faint of heart–this time quite literally.

A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (or UAB for short) has presented another danger regarding space radiation which may cause a few people to scratch themselves off the list.

Using an animal model, researchers assessed the affect of iron ion radiation commonly found in outer space to see if exposures promoted the development of atherosclerosis, as terrestrial sources of radiation are known to do. They observed that cosmic radiation accelerated the development of atherosclerosis, independent of the cholesterol levels or circulating white blood cells of the mice. It also worsened existing atherosclerotic lesions. [...]

[...] Kucik and his colleagues examined atherosclerosis development in mice following targeted exposure to a particle beam of high-velocity iron ions — similar to those found in space — produced by scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. [...]

“At 13 weeks it was surprising and quite remarkable that we already could see permanent damage — an irreversible thickening of the artery wall where it had been exposed to radiation,” said co-author Janusz Kabarowski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Microbiology. “The irradiation had no significant effect on the frequency of circulating immune and inflammatory white blood cells or plasma lipid profile.” (UAB News)

Although this isn’t a show stopper for future space travelers, it does mean that until we can develop artificial magnetic fields strong enough to repel cosmic radiation if we want to see our species survive off world (at least upon the surface).

Since space colonists will inevitably be exposed to cosmic radiation at some point in their lives (especially if they are traversing between the planets), it might also be a good idea to clone a few extra hearts (or harvest them from pigs) just in case the originals become damaged beyond repair.

Celestial Tip: Astrobiology Magazine

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Fingernails And Space Gloves Just Don’t Mix

Posted by on Oct 16, 2010 in Health, Technology | 0 comments

Despite developing innovative ways of combating radiation, micro gravity and how to go to the bathroom in space, we still have yet to solve the space glove dilemma which can cause an unlucky astronaut to lose their fingernails.

Fortunately researchers are working on a solution, although it looks like Dava Newman (who is a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems) may actually have a solution for us.

As part of her ongoing research on EVA performance, Newman is exploring how robotic technology can work in parallel with gas-pressurized suits, including ways to use actuators to help hand muscles fight against pressurized gloves.

She has also spent several years developing technology for the MIT BioSuit, a spacesuit that relies on mechanical counterpressure to enhance astronaut performance. Instead of pressurizing the air inside a bulky spacesuit, the BioSuit applies pressure directly to the skin through tightly wrapped layers of flexible material that function like a “second skin” and enable enhanced mobility and flexibility. Using mechanical counterpressure would get around the hand problem that results from traditional spacesuits, Newman said. (MIT News)

This is great news to hear as it means future explorers will be able to comfortably explore the final frontier in person instead of using robots to perform the most basic tasks such as picking up rocks, digging small holes, etc.

It will also help encourage people to explore off world themselves as fears of damaged nails could severely deter the masses from wearing space gloves (let alone space suits).

While Newman’s approach has yet to provide a solution to the nail drama, it hopefully is a step in the right direction.

(via Physorg.com, Image Credit: Patrick Gillooly)

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Artificial Kidneys For Off World Settlers

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Health, Technology | 0 comments

Unlike Earth with its vast population of kidney donors (that is if one is lucky), future space settlers will likely be on their own if any of them experience kidney failure.

While future scientists on Mars, Callisto, Ganymede, etc. could always grow organs from pigs, off world inhabitants may prefer an artificial solution instead.

The device, which would include thousands of microscopic filters as well as a bioreactor to mimic the metabolic and water-balancing roles of a real kidney, is being developed in a collaborative effort by engineers, biologists and physicians nationwide, led by Shuvo Roy, PhD, in the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.

The treatment has been proven to work for the sickest patients using a room-sized external model developed by a team member in Michigan. Roy’s goal is to apply silicon fabrication technology, along with specially engineered compartments for live kidney cells, to shrink that large-scale technology into a device the size of a coffee cup. The device would then be implanted in the body without the need for immune suppressant medications, allowing the patient to live a more normal life. (Science Daily)

While one would hope in the future that kidney failure would become an issue of the past, having one’s kidney’s fail hundreds a millions of kilometers from the nearest donor does not bring too many pleasant thoughts to mind.

By using artificial kidney’s, doctors can focus more on the replacing the dead kidney rather than on finding a suitable donor (not to mention the dialysis which would take an astronaut out of commission).

Although this technology was developed for the intention of serving residents upon the home world, it can potentially benefit hundreds (if not millions) of off world settlers in the future by giving them one less problem to worry about just in case something goes wrong.

(via Gizmodo)

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Video: Humanity Vs Space Radiation

Posted by on Sep 6, 2010 in Health, Video | 0 comments

(Image Credit: NASA (assumed), via ITECS Insider)

Aside from government politics, space radiation is one of the biggest threats to humans seeking to leave our home world.

Unless we find a way to protect ourselves, humanity will only be able to settle upon only a few worlds within our star system.

As shown in the video below, scientists are attempting to find innovative ways to counteract radiation’s effects, as failure to do so can result in a few dead astronauts.

Scientists are currently working on ways to deal with radiation via medicine, nano particles and portable magnetic fields, as well as mapping out “safe havens” (i.e. off world caves on the Moon and Mars).

Thus far our closest neighbor has some temporary protection thanks to Earth’s magnetic field, although hopefully we can come up with a more permanent solution aside from just settling Jupiter’s Callisto and Saturn’s Titan.

(Hat Tip:  Spaceports)

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Confirmed: Micro Gravity Turns Martian Astronauts Into Girly Men

Posted by on Aug 21, 2010 in Health, Mars | 3 comments

Despite the blessings of weighing less than a feather while treking through the final frontier, scientists have confirmed the side effects of micro gravity which can do more damage than weakening ones immune system.

Fitts, Chair and Professor of Biological Sciences at Marquette, believes if astronauts were to travel to Mars today their ability to perform work would be compromised and, with the most affected muscles such as the calf, the decline could approach 50%. Crew members would fatigue more rapidly and have difficulty performing even routine work in a space suit. Even more dangerous would be their return to Earth, where they’d be physically incapable of evacuating quickly in case of an emergency landing.

The study – the first cellular analysis of the effects of long duration space flighton human muscle – took calf biopsies of nine astronauts and cosmonauts before and immediately following 180 days on the International Space Station (ISS). The findings show substantial loss of fibre mass, force and power in this muscle group. Unfortunately starting the journey in better physical condition did not help. Ironically, one of the study’s findings was that crew members who began with the biggest muscles also showed the greatest decline. (Physorg.com)

Muscles are not the only thing that deteriorates, as bones also weaken, in spite of the intense and vigorous exercise by astronauts.

While scientists could resort to special dieting to counter bone loss, humanity will need to come up with more innovative ways at preserver our muscle mass (outside of electrical shocks that is).

Despite our best laid plans, Mars is currently too far away to be reached safely by conventional rockets.

We may have to wait until VASIMR engines become a reality before we can dream of creating crimson foot prints in the near future.

(Image Credit: ADAM via MedlinePlus)

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NASA: Omega-3 Everyday Can Keep The Bone Loss Away (Micro Gravity)

Posted by on May 13, 2010 in Blog, Health, Science | 0 comments

One of the biggest hurdles preventing humanity from settling the final frontier is micro gravity.

While it may be fun to float in the air like jelly fish floats in water, micro gravity can wreck serious damage upon our bodies, turning strong bones into brittle skeletons.

Fortunately it looks as if the boys and girls at NASA may have found a solution to our woes via a fatty acid by the name of Omega-3.

(NASA) NASA-sponsored studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may play a role in mitigating bone breakdown that occurs during spaceflight and in osteoporosis. Ongoing research for decades has looked for ways to stop bone density loss in astronauts. [...]

In a series of cell-based studies, scientists documented that adding a specific omega-3 fatty acid to cells would inhibit the activation of factors that lead to bone breakdown. This was true in both typical cell cultures and those designed to mimic weightlessness. The inhibited factor is known as “nuclear factor kappa B” or NFκB. NFκB is involved in immune system behavior and the inflammation process. The activation of NFκB in different tissues can lead to bone and muscle loss.

Combined with medical drugs (which will help keep our muscles strong), humanity may finally be able to dwell among the heavens above without fear of their bodies deteriorating in deep space.

While this probably means that sea food, will become apart of the future diet (especially for water rich worlds like the Moon, Mars and Callisto), this revelation may also help make living off world a little bit easier (if not tastier as well).

(via SpaceRef, Image Credit: Medline Plus)

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