NASA Aerospace Agency threw all its strength to bring man back to the moon in 2024. At the same time, research continuing on board the International Space Station (ISS) can provide an excellent basis for more remote manned missions to Mars, according to experts who spoke at the annual Humans to Mars summit last week in Washington.
A group of researchers from space agencies, private space companies and other related organizations from around the world discussed the issues and shared their views on how best to prepare for sending people to the Red Planet. Their brief abstracts, along with a description of those scientific and technological areas that are already being worked out now, are quoted by the portal Space.com.
Experts indicate that flights to Mars will be associated with additional risks compared to flights to the moon. For example, people on Mars will have to spend a long amount of time in an environment that may contain Martian microbes.
Crews who worked on the ISS have already helped NASA significantly in reducing some of the risks associated with the future sending of a man to Mars, said Julie Robertson, chief scientist at the Lyndon Johnson Space Center in Houston, who is responsible for scientific research programs at the orbital station. For example, in the International Space Station, which has been operating for about 20 years in Earth orbit, a good deal of this time was devoted to research aimed at understanding the effects of microgravity on the human body and the consequences that these effects carry. Scientists, for example, found that a long stay in space can seriously weaken the bone and muscle structure, change the circulation of body fluids, and also lead to maladaptation (read: violation) of the cardiovascular system. But work in the Martian conditions will be completely unlike work on the ISS or the same Moon.
"If we evaluate all the risks associated with work on the ISS and the Moon, then work on Mars will be the most dangerous," said Robertson.
At the same time, the scientist adds that the landing on the Earth satellite, as well as work on the ISS, which takes place in microgravity conditions, can provide invaluable data for the development of more distant space. Observing how people adapt to working in lunar gravity, which is only 1/6 of the earth, will provide us with information on how best to prepare for work on the surface of the more distant neighbor of the Earth, whose gravity level is about 38 percent of the earth.
Martian life can be a problem for us.
Still a big mystery for scientists is the likelihood of life on Mars, said Lisa Pratt from the planetary defense department at NASA. The task of this department is to study and work out ways to reduce the risks of infection of other worlds by the Solar System by terrestrial microbes that can fly to Mars along with the research equipment sent there, as well as to prevent the transfer of Martian microbes to our planet. This, as the scientist noted, may occur in the framework of future missions aimed at collecting and returning to Earth of various samples of Martian geology.
Now the mission to return soil samples from such planets as Mars is pure science fiction, but this fiction “has become much closer to reality,” Pratt notes. NASA plans to carry out the first such mission already in 2026. Thus, the agency has only about 6 years to develop appropriate technologies. Moreover, the beginning of this mission will be laid in 2020, when a new rover will go to Mars. His task will be to collect samples of the Marsinsky soil and store them in special capsules, which should be collected during the mission scheduled for 2026.
According to Pratt, while we can not figure out for sure whether there is life on Mars, because we do not know what is under its surface.
“There are assumptions about the existence of warm steam tunnels and saline underground waters under the surface of the planet, but we are not sure yet,” the scientist notes.
Researchers note that some bacteria can exist in very salty conditions. In addition, salt lowers the freezing point of water, allowing it to stay longer in a liquid state, which in the future can also increase the chances of life below the surface of the Red Planet.
Pratt identified a whole topic to discuss the risks of infestation of the Martian environment by terrestrial microbes.
“Despite ongoing research, we don’t know who will be able to get there,” Pratt said, pointing to the possibility of some microorganisms to survive a space trip.
"We know little about those bacteria that can not only penetrate the sterile spacecraft assembly shops, but also survive during launches and flights to Mars," the scientist added.
Despite the harsh flight conditions between the Earth and Mars, high radiation, a complete lack of oxygen and low temperatures, it is not yet clear whether all microorganisms that landed on board a Martian ship could not survive them, adds Pratt.
Research on Earth
Despite the fact that space conditions are the most appropriate analogue of the environment for studying the behavior of the human body in response to long flights to Mars, ongoing research on Earth also makes an important contribution to understanding the risks that future Martian crews will have to face.
Space radiation, microbiology, waste management, and human health and its effectiveness in space are the four areas in which the German Center for Aviation and Cosmonautics works, said Ruth Hemmersbach, head of the department of gravitational biology, and deputy director of the Institute of Aerospace Medicine of the DLR agency .
“I believe that experiments should be carried out not only in space. It is necessary to study the issues of microgravity, including in terrestrial conditions, ”the expert noted.
For example, some of the most important research is being carried out on the unique test installation Envihab, installed in the German Center for Cosmonautics. With the help of it, scientists carry out the so-called “recumbent research”, during which their participants need to be in the supine position for months. Thus, scientists want to understand how this will affect people's health. In such a controlled environment, it is very easy to change the necessary parliaments of the experiment and monitor how people react to it. One of the questions that interests researchers is how such conditions can affect people's vision, which, as the work on the ISS has shown, can really change for the worse.
Currently, space crews consist mainly of very healthy people who, of course, cannot represent all people in general, said Daniel Buckland of Duke University, dealing with emergency medical care and engineering mechanics. He urged the space agencies to consider the possibility of participation in the space missions of people with average health.
“It will be a complete disappointment if our best botanist or geologist cannot fly to Mars just because, for example, they have diabetes. The current model of space medicine involves the selection of only the most healthy people for space missions. It is not right. This limits the circle of people who can fly and make a truly invaluable contribution to the experiments on the surface, ”commented Buckland.
According to Saralin Mark, an endocrinologist, a geriatrician and a female health specialist who previously worked as a senior medical consultant at NASA, now more health-related research has been carried out with regard to the sexes. Some of these studies are aimed at understanding how members of different sexes can react to stressful situations while in space. Currently, Mark is the head of the non-profit organization iGIANT, which also deals with issues of gender and gender approaches in space research programs.
She notes that the task is not to “arrange a battle of the sexes” in matters of cosmic health, but to focus on identifying specific medical problems and ways to solve them in men and women (mostly the work is related to socio-psychological aspects, but also directions and biological nature). For example, a specialist notes, men are more likely than women to experience vision problems from a long stay in space conditions. This may be explained by the fact that the age of male astronauts is generally higher than that of women, and also by the fact that the female sex hormone estrogen is better able to protect eye health than the male hormone testosterone.
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