Mars model provides method for landing humans


A mathematical model developed by space medicine experts at the Australian National University (ANU) could be used to predict whether an astronaut can safely travel to Mars and perform mission duties by setting foot on the red planet.

The ANU team simulated the impact of prolonged exposure to weightlessness on the cardiovascular system to determine if the human body can tolerate the gravitational forces of Mars – which are not as strong as on Earth – without faint or suffer a medical emergency while walking. out of a spaceship.

The model could be used to assess the impact of short and long duration spaceflight on the body and could be another important piece of the puzzle to help humans land on Mars.

ANU Medical School researcher Dr Lex van Loon said that while there are multiple risks associated with travel to Mars, the biggest concern is the prolonged exposure to microgravity – close to l weightlessness – which, combined with exposure to harmful radiation from the Sun, could cause “fundamental” changes in the body.

“We know that it takes about six to seven months to get to Mars and it could cause your blood vessel structure to change or your heart to feel different due to the weightlessness you feel as a result of a weightless space travel,” said Dr van Loon. , who is also the lead author of the article, said.

“With the rise of commercial spaceflight agencies like Space X and Blue Origin, there is more room for wealthy but not necessarily healthy people to go into space, so we want to use mathematical models to predict if anyone is fit to fly to Mars.”

Astrophysicist and registrar of emergency medicine Dr Emma Tucker said prolonged exposure to weightlessness can make the heart lazy because it doesn’t have to work as hard to overcome gravity in order to pump blood through the body.

“When you’re on Earth, gravity pulls fluid to the lower half of our body, which is why some people see their legs start to swell towards the end of the day. But when you go into space, that pull gravity disappears, which means fluid moves to the upper half of your body and that triggers a response that tricks the body into thinking there’s too much fluid,” Dr. Tucker said.

“As a result, you start going to the bathroom often, you start getting rid of excess fluids, you don’t feel thirsty and you don’t drink as much, which means you get dehydrated in space.

“That’s why you might see astronauts on the news fainting when they set foot on Earth again. It’s a fairly common occurrence following space travel, and the longer you stay in the space, the more likely you are to collapse when you return to gravity.

“The goal of our model is to predict, with high accuracy, whether an astronaut can safely arrive on Mars without fainting. We believe it is possible.

Due to a communication lag in relaying messages between Mars and Earth, astronauts must be able to carry out their duties without receiving immediate assistance from support teams. Dr van Loon said this window of radio silence differs depending on the alignment of the Sun, Earth and Mars in its orbit, but could last for at least 20 minutes.

“If an astronaut faints when they first step out of the spacecraft or there is a medical emergency, there will be no one on Mars to help them,” Dr van Loon said.

“That’s why we have to be absolutely certain that the astronaut is fit to fly and that he can adapt to the gravitational field of Mars. They must be able to function effectively and efficiently with minimal support during those crucial first minutes. »

The model uses an algorithm based on astronaut data collected from past space expeditions, including the Apollo missions, to simulate the risks of traveling to Mars.

Although the space data used to inform the model’s parameters comes from middle-aged, well-trained astronauts, researchers hope to extend its capabilities by simulating the impact of prolonged space travel on relatively unhealthy individuals suffering from pre-existing heart disease. This would provide researchers with a bigger picture of what would happen if an “ordinary” person traveled through space.

The researchers’ work is published in the journal npj Microgravity.

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