Your body won’t be the same by the time you get to Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — In the next decade, in 2033, NASA and China intend to send astronauts to Mars for the first time in history.

This raises many challenges, ranging from logistical and technical issues to ensuring that astronauts can handle waste and have enough food and water for the months-long journey to and from Mars.

But of course, the health and safety of the astronauts who will spend months on space travel, where they will be exposed to cosmic radiation and microgravity, should not be forgotten.

There are even fears that after several months of exposure to microgravity, it will be difficult for astronauts to adapt to Martian gravity.

To determine if these concerns are justified, a team of space medicine experts from the Australian National University (ANU) has developed a mathematical model to predict whether astronauts will be able to safely travel to Mars and perform their duties once they arrive on the Red Planet.

This model can be extremely useful, along with all the other preparations that need to be made before astronauts set foot on Mars.

It can also be used to assess the impact of short-term and long-term missions that will take astronauts far beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and the Earth-Moon system in the future.

An article describing their mathematical model and findings recently appeared in npj Microgravity, a scientific journal published by Nature.

The research team was led by Dr. Lex van Loon, a research fellow at the ANU College of Health and Medicine (CHM).

As he and his colleagues point out in their study, the potential hazards for missions to Mars are numerous, but the greatest threat comes from the time that astronauts spend in microgravity.

Combined with harmful radiation from the Sun and cosmic sources, this experience will cause fundamental changes in their body.

Based on extensive research carried out aboard the International Space Station (ISS), microgravity is known to cause loss of muscle and bone density, affect organ function, vision, and the cardiopulmonary system – the heart and its ability to pump blood through the body’s arterial and vein system .

As Van Loon pointed out in an ANU press release, their research is important not only in connection with the proposed missions to Mars, but also for the developing commercial space sector:

“We know that a journey to Mars will take about six to seven months, and this could result in a change in the structure of your blood vessels or the strength of your heart due to the weightlessness experienced as a result of weightless space travel.”

With the rise of commercial space flights such as Space X and Blue Origin, there are more opportunities for the wealthy, but not necessarily the healthy, to go to space, so we want to use mathematical models to predict if someone is qualified to go to Mars.”

Study co-author Dr Emma Tucker, an astrophysicist and emergency medicine registrar, added that prolonged exposure to weightlessness can cause the heart to become lazy because it doesn’t have to work as hard to overcome gravity and pump blood throughout the body.

“When you’re on Earth, gravity pulls fluid toward the lower half of our body, which is why some people notice that their feet start to swell by the end of the day.

But when you go into space, the gravitational pull disappears, which means that the fluid moves to the upper half of the body, which causes a response that tricks the body into thinking that there is too much fluid.

As a result, you begin to go to the toilet often, get rid of excess fluid, do not feel thirsty and do not drink so much, which means dehydration in space.

That’s why, Tucker says, astronauts returning from the ISS faint when they set foot on Earth again or have to be transported in wheelchairs.

The longer they are in space, the more likely they are to faint upon returning to Earth, and the more difficult it is to adapt to Earth’s gravity.

In the case of the NASA twin study, Mark Kelly spent more than a year in orbit and experienced terrible pain, swelling, and other symptoms upon return (as he described in his book Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery).

When it comes to flights to Mars, there is an additional complication associated with the delay in communication between Earth and Mars.

Depending on the location of the Sun, Earth, and Mars, these delays can be up to 20 minutes, which means astronauts should be able to perform their duties without immediate assistance from controllers or support crews (including medical emergencies).

As Van Loon explained:

“If an astronaut faints when he first exits the spacecraft, or if there is a medical emergency, no one on Mars will help him.

That’s why we have to be absolutely sure that the astronaut is airworthy and will be able to adapt to the gravitational field of Mars.

They need to be able to work effectively and efficiently with minimal support during those critical first few minutes.”

Their model relies on a machine learning algorithm based on data from astronauts collected during past expeditions aboard the ISS and Apollo missions to model the risks associated with flying to Mars.

Testing has shown that it can mimic major changes in cardiovascular hemodynamics after long-term space flight and under various gravity and fluid loading conditions. The results are encouraging as they indicate that astronauts can function after months spent in microgravity.

Although the current model is based on data from middle-aged and well-trained astronauts, the researchers hope to expand its capabilities to include data from commercial spaceflight.

Ultimately, their goal is to create a model that can mimic the effects of long-term space travel on relatively unhealthy people with pre-existing heart disease (in other words, untrained civilians). They hope this model will provide a more holistic view of what would happen if a “regular” person went into space.

Further refinements could be made to include age-related health issues, which would be logical given the number of celebrities who have recently flown into space (Wally Funk, William Shatner, Laura Shepard, Richard Branson, etc.).

Who knows? It may be possible to model the effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity on children and fetal development. These studies are essential if we are ever to send humans to the Moon, Mars, and other places to live.

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