So far, we have all of our space infrastructure in place, and, like a well oiled machine, it is humming right along. Spaceships are delivering passengers and cargo up to Low Earth Orbit and all the way to the Lunar Surface. We are even taking care of the trash that we create.
However (you knew there would be one, right?), there are serious health issues that arise while trying to colonize space. McCoy's rant on Star Trek XI about the perils of space is only the beginning of what awaits our intrepid voyagers.
While we don't quite have to worry about Andorian Shingles (yet), there are other just as serious hazards that await us in space. But all is not lost; there are things that we can address immediately, such as nutrition and adequate shielding.
These voyagers who will be lucky enough to fly in space will also be lucky enough to be served good, nutritious, healthy food. So that part of the equation has already been taken care of (see the section under Astronaut Food Preparation Facility at this NMSTARG DKos diary).
We also intend to wrap each station module in a kevlar-like material to stop most high-speed particles (a water barrier, of course, is the best, and will eventually be incorporated), so that part of the equation has already been taken care of as well.
(Note: The folks at Bigelow offer a space station module made with kevlar and with a water barrier system already in place. This most excellent product will be discussed in a future DKos Diary).
What has not been satisfactorily remedied is one of the more serious stumbling blocks to space colonization: the human body's inability to cope with long-term weightlessness. Bones become weaker, muscles deteriorate, the heart doesn't have to work as hard, and so, doesn't, ... the list goes on. If it is allowed to continue, weightless-adaptation will have occurred, and the sufferer is permanently exiled in space.
NASA's experience with human spaceflight has shown that strenuous exercise is one way to combat this deterioration. This form of exercise usually takes place on an stationary bicycle where the astronaut is strapped into the seat. It isn't as effective a form of exercise as on Earth, but it is one of the best so far. Bones still become weaker, but not as much. Muscles still deteriorate, but, again, not as much. Even the heart has to work just a little bit harder.
Alas, there just isn't anything like good ol' fashioned one gee to do a body good.
So any exercise enviroment must have the following criteria:
- Exercise Area: a place where astronauts can exercise in as close to a Standard Gravity (i.e., normal gravity) environment as possible
Spinning a room to simulate gravity if fine and good, but it requires gears, and other mechanisms that can fail. Therefore, our Exercise Area cannot spin
Is this even possible in a weightless environment?
The answer, of course, involves physics. To the physics lab and beyond!
Continued below the fold...
On earth, a person can simply go outside and start running to get a little exercise (this assumes good knees, heart, etc.). The constant stride allows the body to be propelled upward, and then, as all things, back down again. The runner roughly takes the shape of a negative parabola (an upside-down U-shape).
As the runner hops into the air, they experience true weightlessness. This weightless period extends throughout the entire shape of the parabola. Once the runner hits the ground, forces greater than standard gravity is experienced. The runner then repeats the cycle, launching back into the air, and hence, back into weightlessness.
So most of the time spent running is in state of weightlessness.
The Exercise Torus of Death
Our idea is simple: Use the principle that Pete Conrad used on Apollo-Skylab:
The reason why Pete "sticks" to the walls of the stationary space station is because he is running around it. From his point of view, he was at the bottom of a large cylinder on its side. As he runs, the cylinder would seem to move beneath him. In reality, he is the one going around.
What is astonishing is that his run, from a physiological point of view, was no different than if he had ran in a gravity well, albeit, a small one. This now becomes a low-cost way to provide the crew with exercise, because there are no mechanisms that need to spin up a room needed!
Using this concept, we will construct an Exercise Torus (ET), a donut-shaped shell that will be pressurized to standard atmosphere and attached to an Exercise Module (EM) that is filled with standard weightless-environment exercise equipment (mostly involving springs). The EM is a standard Commons Module with a standard Environmental Control/Life Support System (EC/LSS). The EC/LSS of the EM will maintain the atmosphere inside the ET.
Up to 4 astronauts enter the ET that is attached to the EM and begin to run. In the image above, astronauts run in a clockwise direction. After the runners have finished and exited, other astronauts enter and begin. The facility can be used 24-7 in this way. With 3 ETs attached, 12 astronauts can exercise at the same time.
This facility should simulate, as close as possible, the actual effects of running in a standard gravity environment, such as on earth. The physical effects on the body should be indistinguishable from the effects felt on earth.
While it is true that the faster you run, the more "gravity" you will feel, astronauts will in no way experience 1g while running; they just need to run too fast to achieve that. But at least the astronauts are subjected to an artificial gravity well, and a small one is good enough (for now).
Tour de Kos
We are also exploring the idea of using bicycles in this arena. The logistics of that is difficult to ascertain; however, if the bicycles are on a grooved-track that cannot be steered, then the same 4-astronauts-per-ET configuration (or more) could be maintained. The astronauts simply ride their bicycles as if on Earth, with the same earthly effects. The faster one pedals, the more g's they will pull. Of course, everyone would have to maintain the same spacing, so the whole train could only go so fast.
We also like the idea of the bicyclist wearing a 3D headset, so to simulate an earthly environment (or really, any environment one chooses), complete with the sounds of birds singing and waterfalls, er, falling.
One of the major problems with using bicycles is that there is now balancing issues that need to be dealt with. Like an excellent airplane propeller, the ET will have to be balanced. Otherwise, a "gyroscopic" effect (a twisting-twirling motion) will ensure. So astronauts would have to be paired up as closely as possible mass-wise, then ride bicycles opposite of each other.
Sleep, sleep, sleep...
We are also studying the idea of using an automated device to allow astronauts to sleep in this environment. Astronauts have reported having trouble falling asleep because they need to feel the pressure of a pillow and a blanket, like on Earth.
Our idea is that the beds lie on the "floor" of the torus, with the astronaut's head in the direction of the spin. The "floor" begins to spin, creating an artificial gravity. Astronauts can then get a good night's sleep while getting the benefits of a one g-environment for at least 6 hours a day (or night, as the case may be).
Of course, the ride will have to be smooth as silk, or at least a slight vibration, so as to lull sleepy explorers to slumber. But as long as the sleeper does not move their head too much, they should be comfortable, which is to say, not dizzy. Of course, there's no getting up in the middle of the night to go to the head! That would make everything out-of-balance.
We have now solved for now, the problem of prolonged weightlessness on the human body. While not a perfect solution, it has the advantages of being cheap to build and cheap to fly.
Our journey is now complete; the last piece of the puzzle is now in place. We have discussed many things that seem disparate at first, but do come together in the end. It is like a great jigsaw puzzle, whose ragged edges seem to be chaotic and random, but actually provide clues to how they fit.
But seeing the picture that the completed puzzle has made necessitates that we step back a bit, so that we can see it in its entirety.
Of course, that's a story for another day.
A version of this diary was cross-posted at NMSTARG.
The DKos diary series so far:
- History, Part I
- History, Part II
- Space Port
- Space Plane
- Space Stations
- Space Ships
- Recharge and Resupply
- Lunar Ships
- Lunar Base
- Lunar Propellant
- Clean Up
- Health In Space
- Advanced Systems
FULL DISCLOSURE: I work for the New Mexico Space Technology Applications Research Group (NMSTARG), a commercial space flight venture, which in its current form exists as an unfinished technical paper. NMSTARG is not affiliated with any of the businesses that were discussed in these posting. These diaries exists as a way for the DKos community to get a first look at our research, and to ask said community for any technical and non-technical (just as important!) feedback. The paper provides information on how to make a profit in space, detailing the infrastructure that will be needed and all of the associated costs involved. As such, we hope that it eventually attracts the attention of investors, where the paper then becomes the technical portion of a space-related business plan.