With the recent decline in U.S. space flight, it felt only fitting to consider what challenges might face future endeavors.
Space is a curious thing. It runs counter to our reason, opposite our biology. As much as we try, we’ll never truly adapt to space. We can only survive it.
That distinction may not seem like much, but it carries serious implications.
Adapting implies our capability of doing well, in other words succeeding in such a way that we hardly notice the change.
Americans don’t long for the environment of old England, just as Native Americans don’t long for their long forgotten Asian habitations. That, my friends, is adaptation.
Back to space, the wide nothingness, the great demotivator.
We humans, simply weren’t meant for space. Our digestion for one, relies heavily on the constant pull of gravity to keep things, well, down.
It is painfully common for newbie astronauts to experience weeks of vertigo and nausea. Though this settles, their problems are far from over.
This very brief review I found details some of the more challenging nutritional implications of humans in space.
Constant doses of solar radiation require generous doses of antioxidants: fish oil, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Vitamins A, C, and E. You name it. All in the hopes of preventing the “C” word.
And let’s not forget our constant reliance on sunlight. Even in astronauts heavily dosed with Vitamin D, deficiencies were still common and difficult to alleviate.
That thing that’s constantly getting us down, also happens to keep us strong. Kind of ironic isn’t it? See your bones are like a rigid sponge. When stressed, with exercise or weight bearing, they flex ever so slightly. That flexing is crucial to pulling blood in and out, a necessity for building strong bones. So what happens when that gravitational constant suddenly disappears? Chicken legs. Or rather, a serious breakdown of a muscle and bone tissue.
If you’ve yet to look into the effects of long term space flight, astronauts generally undergo an extensive muscle rehabilitation program lasting anywhere from 4-6 months upon returning to Earth. Not a simple undertaking.
So how do we prevent this?
Protein, and lots of it. Luckily for us, muscle doesn’t simply disappear, it gets reabsorbed for use. If we can supplement the diet with enough protein to inhibit this process, known as proteolysis, we can drastically slow the effects of low-gravity.
But therein lies a separate issue, how to “grow” enough protein for the estimated 6-8 month journey to Mars. Plants may take up too much space in a shuttle, animals too much work. What are we left with?
If you’ve been following this blog so far, you’ve surely seen my commentary on “Vida Meat“, that beautiful lab-grown monstrosity. I think future Mars astronauts will look with great respect at Vida Meat.
Afterall, if you were stuck in space for 16 months (there and back), wouldn’t you want the occasional steak over a protein shake? I think we all know the answer to that.
Additionally, we can dose our Vida Meat with Vitamins A, D, C, and E, in the hopes of preventing some of the consequences of space travel.
Either way, we are far from being suited for a lifetime in space. Our technology in its infancy, our biology too rigid.
My greatest fear, is that we’ll never get the chance to find a solution.
Think ahead, and be good to each other.
– Joshua Iufer
Still curious about biological effects of space? Check out Vsauce “What if you were born in space“