I recently attended NASA’s three day webinar series, Spaceflight for Everybody. Working for NASA has always been a dream job for me. The symposium offered the public a chance to learn about the current state of NASA spaceflight health knowledge. Keep reading for some cool facts that I learned during day one of the session that I wanted to share with you! You can also watch the recorded sessions here.
NASA Artemis Missions
- Named after the twin sister of Apollo, Artemis is the Goddess of the Moon – hence the name.
- The Artemis missions will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon.
- The Orion Spacecraft will carry astronauts from Earth to lunar orbit and back.
- Artemis I will be an uncrewed maiden flight test of the integrated Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. This will verify that the spacecraft’s system performance and will also test Orion’s heat shield during its high-speed reentry to Earth and nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Artemis II will be the first crewed flight test of the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft around the Moon. This will be a 10-day flight test, and the four Artemis astronauts will set the record for the farthest human travel from Earth. They will validate deep space communication and navigation systems, ensuring that life support systems keep them health and safe.
- Artemis III+ planning is underway for a regular cadence of Artemis missions with crew on and around the Moon.
Hazards of Human Spaceflight
Some of the risk factors astronauts deal with (especially as we prepare to go to Mars):
- Space Radiation: Invisible to the human eye, radiation increases cancer risk, damages the central nervous system, and can alter cognitive function. It can also reduce motor function and prompt behavioral changes.
- Isolation and Confinement: Sleep loss, circadian desynchronization, and work overload may lead to performance reductions, adverse health outcomes, and compromised mission objectives.
- Distance from Earth: Communication delays, the possibility of equipment failure, and medical emergencies are some situations the astronauts must be capable of confronting.
- Gravity/Lack of Gravity: Astronauts encounter a variance of gravity during missions. On Mars, astronauts would need to live and work in 3/8ths of Earth’s gravitational pull for up to two years.
- Hostile/Closed Environments: The ecosystem inside a vehicle plays a big role in everyday life for an astronaut. Temperate, pressure, lighting, noise and quantity of space of key factors to keep astronauts happy and healthy.
Spaceflight Medical Risks
- NASA has learned a lot from the International Space Station (ISS), with over 20 years of data.
- Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle missions were all less than 14 days. With long duration missions going out 6 months or even a year, NASA started to see things that they weren’t seeing in shorter duration missions. These include optic nerve edema and elevated intracranial pressure which can affect vision and other organ systems. NASA would not have known that these types of health factors existed had they not done the ISS missions and lab experiments. These are important lessons to learn as we prepare to go to Mars and further out into space.
- Most people think astronauts are incredibly healthy and have never had any health issues. Astronauts are healthy because NASA works hard to keep them that way. NASA has discovered a multitude of health concerns astronauts have faced, repaired the issues and returned them to flight. Some of these include kidney stones, brain tumor, right ovarian cyst, retinal detachment, cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, fatty liver disease, hip prosthesis and so many more.
- The Inspiration 4 mission stated that one of their astronauts was the first to fly with a bone prosthetic. She actually wasn’t the first! NASA has flown astronauts with hip and bone prosthetics, they just do not share private medical records with the public. NASA chose not to correct the press because they did not want to take away from Hayley Arceneaux’s time in space, as it was her special time and a great accomplishment.
Hazards of Long Duration Exploration Related to Isolation & Confinement
- Isolation and confinement relates to both social and physical isolation (confinement and monotony), increased stress response and behavior and performance changes. Think about it – on a long term mission, if you are stressed out, you can’t go outside and go for a walk to clear your head!
- NASA conducts research along a variety of different platforms:
- Human Exploration Research Analog HERA – (Johnson Space Center) Four missions per year that last about 45 days with a team of four.
- DLR – (Germany) Works with the European Space Agency to conduct bedrest research.
- National Space Radiation Laboratory NSRL – (New York) Conducts research to increase our understanding of the link between ionizing radiation and cell damage.
- SIRIUS – (Russia) An isolation and confinement facility with one team that is isolated for a longer amount of time than with HERA (as of this writing, there is currently an 8-month mission going on).
- Antarctic Stations – (Antarctica) Different than HERA or SIRIUS as there is less control of variables.
- International Space Station ISS – Research on astronauts during missions related to altered gravity, space radiation, distance from Earth, etc.
Human Radiation Exposure
- For a background baseline – mSv (millisievert) is the average accumulated background radiation dose to an individual for one year in the United States. The average person in the United States receives an effective dose of about 3 mSv per year from natural radiation, which does include cosmic radiation from space.
- With long term space flight, here are the comparisons of radiation exposure astronauts face versus someone on Earth going about their daily life:
- ISS Low Earth Orbit – a six month mission exposes an astronaut to 50-100 mSv’s, a year long mission exposes an astronaut to 100-200 mSv’s.
- Lunar Mission – An Artemis sortie lasts about 30 days and exposes an astronaut to 40-55 mSv’s, a year long mission exposes an astronaut to 300-400 mSv’s.
- Mars Mission – A Mars mission lasts about 700-900 days with 30 days on the surface of Mars (the surface offers protection via the atmosphere and planetary shielding). An astronaut will be exposed to 1000-1300 mSv’s.
- Space radiation health risks include acute radiation syndrome, radiation carcinogenesis, cardiovascular degenerative disease, central nervous system effect and more.
Stay tuned for day two lessons learned!