What that means for human health?
Once we are living on Mars, how we should take care of our health? The effects of human spaceflight on astronaut’s health have been always a priority. Our bodies are not designed to live in the space environment, so every time that we spend time doing research in space our body suffers a number of changes and adaptations.
So far, the impact on astronauts’ health for those that went to the moon and astronauts that visited the ISS has not been so dramatically negative, but going to Mars could probably arise new levels of challenges. Going beyond the ISS and the moon, means leaving the Earth’s protective magnetic field, and enter into deep space where astronauts will receive high levels of protons, cosmic and gamma rays. This is something that has not been studied enough to understand how much this could affect astronauts, but NASA currently has a number of studies, like Scott Kelly’s one-year ISS mission, that will address this and other issues.
Besides adapting to 0-g during a spaceflight, our body will need to suddenly adapt to Mars gravity, which is 1/3 of Earth’s. Astronauts have reported body changes like: bone loss, cognitive problems, muscle atrophy, and many more. Without gravity, our bones start losing mass and muscles as our heart becomes weaker. After an extended period in space, the risks of health problems can increase. Once they have landed on Mars they will probably feel weaker than at the beginning of the mission, and there won’t be anyone over there to help them to set up or assist them in case of a health emergency. They need to train not only in the technical capabilities of the mission, but also in the medical and psychological challenges that will arise. Cognitive problems like difficulty to concentrate have been reported, and this can impact in astronaut’s daily activities.
As Mars doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Earth, astronauts will be receiving some level of radiation even on the surface of the planet, and for this reason they need to have all types of counter measurements. They need training to maintain their health as good as possible, and this means exercising a lot, sleeping 8 hours per day, eating well so they can receive all the vitamins and minerals our body needs, drinking enough water, and relax to reduce stress levels. We need to make sure that our astronauts are in the best shape even before starting any space travel because every space mission means many years of work and money, so there is no room to risk the entire mission due to poor health. Astronauts are also expected to perform long EVAs inside a spacesuit, and this requires a lot of energy and focus.
For all these reasons, astronauts follow a strict exercise program, and us at MDRS follow one as well. Team ISU – Crew 162 is performing yoga and cardiovascular sessions, as well as some brain exercises that each of us perform in our own free time. As a crew, we are doing this to help us reduce stress, keep ourselves active and as a form of team building. We eat in a balanced way, we remind ourselves often to drink enough water and we have vitamin supplements at hand.
Performing Mars analogs like this will help us to understand human performance in this type of isolation, in which you spend all your time inside a very reduced space with other human beings, without being able to go out and enjoy of fresh air or go away. With the restriction of staying inside for the entire time and the challenges of stressful situations, the team must learn to work and communicate very efficiently, and I think we are doing it very good right now.
We are taking our health seriously, as we know that if we don’t, lack of sleep, work overload (as we are only 3 people), or stress, can directly affect the mission outcomes. We are currently doing a study exactly on this topic; team social interaction and we look forward to hearing about the results at the end of the mission.
Preparing for a successful human mission to Mars, our desire is that our stay at MDRS can contribute directly to future human space exploration.
– Health and Safety Officer, Team ISU Crew 162