All new blog activity related to Prof Thais Russomano and her continuing work in Space Life Sciences, Space Education, Aerospace Medicine and TeleHealth are sited on her company website at InnovaSpace.
The work continues with new research and projects - take a look!
Author: Adriana Bos-Mikich PhD
Department of Morphological Sciences, ICBS, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
The last few decades have seen remarkable progress in our ability to safely launch manned craft into the black abyss of space, boosted in recent years by the growing involvement of commercial space enterprise, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. With it has come a rising desire to work towards the establishment of longer-term human settlements in orbiting space stations and on the Moon and Mars. Recent experiments, although methodologically limited, have demonstrated that frozen human sperm samples are not affected by the microgravity conditions encountered in spaceflight, which is an important and positive finding.
However, life in space is not confronted by microgravity alone, but is also faced with high radiation levels, which may well represent a relevant source of concern when dealing with human reproduction beyond Earth.
Cryopreserved sperm and oocyte samples stored in outer space under these two hostile conditions must survive and maintain viability long enough to generate viable embryos, if they are eventually to result in healthy babies born aboard space stations. The putative effects of long-term storage of human gametes and embryos under Earth atmospheric conditions have already been investigated. Data from early clinical and experimental studies have shown that background radiation has no deleterious impact on babies created after long-term storage of frozen human embryos and oocytes. Therefore, the next steps should involve similar experiments taking place under the conditions of being in an outer space environment, where radiation levels are far higher than on Earth, before considering the generation of embryos using cryopreserved gametes stored on space stations.
Nonetheless, the risks of reduced viability due to radiation levels and microgravity are not the only concerns related to the cryostorage and shipment of human gametes. There are other risks associated with the cryostorage of biological material, both on Earth and in Space, ranging from the transmission of diseases between samples stored in liquid nitrogen, to unintentional loss due accidental warming. The loss of oocytes and embryos due to major equipment failure has been reported in fertility clinics, with thousands of gametes and embryos being lost worldwide. As reported by assisted reproduction specialist Dr Mina Alikani in 2018, the maintenance of a very low temperature and avoidance of temperature fluctuations are key factors for the safe and long-term cryostorage of human cells and tissues. Additionally, the shipment and handling of cryopreserved biological samples represents another potential hazard for gametes and embryos. Results of research by Casey McDonald and colleagues in 2011, using donated human oocytes, warned of the effects of the ‘inherent perils of shipping’ on the lowering of survival rates, with exposure to elevated ambient temperature and air pressure, vibration or any other physical shock potentially contributing to poorer results.
Therefore, for the successful transport of biological samples under cryostorage, it is essential that appropriate shipping vessels be used, such as those allowing continuous temperature monitoring, rather than relying on data collected at the final destination.
Big question marks remain as to whether healthy babies can be born following the use of in vitro fertilization technologies performed in outer space. Furthermore, major safety and ethical concerns must be taken into consideration before such a giant leap for humanity is taken.
Article first published on InnovaSpace website
See also article: Assisted reproduction frontiers in outer space
I was delighted to be interviewed recently by The Guardian, a prestigious British newspaper established in 1821. Their article published on the 22nd Jan 2019 features some details about my life and path that led me to being a space doctor, and also a bit about my new UK company, InnovaSpace, and the work we do.
The InnovaSpace outreach projects, such as Kids2Mars and Project Valentina, were highlighted for their efforts to spark the interest of the young towards the STEM areas, and to follow careers linked to future space travel and colonies.
Do have a read and tell us what you think! The Guardian Article
With another year now drawn to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the two very successful InnovaSpace Kids2Mars events that took place in 2018 involving questions asked by children to crew members of Mars analogue missions, one with the MDRS Crew 185 in the Utah desert and the other with the Austrian Space Forum’s AMADEE-18 mission in the Dhofar desert in Oman.
In summary, 53 children from 33 different countries from around the world had the opportunity to ask anything they wanted about travelling to and life on Mars, and very interesting answers came back from analogue astronauts and crew members who spent their time isolated in desert regions, especially chosen for their similarities to the planet Mars.
Analogue astronauts on this type of mission in general have little spare time, as they are involved in many research activities, so we knew we could not bombard them with a mountain of questions. This in fact also linked well with our aims for the Kids2Mars project, which was to involve children from as many different countries as possible – quantity of countries rather than quantity of questions. With our tagline of Space Without Borders, this aspect was of prime importance, so an end result of 33 countries was very satisfying, especially so considering the diverse range of nations involved, such as Bolivia, Bulgaria, Iceland, Mongolia and Nepal. In fact, we had questions coming from countries in 6 of the 7 continents, just missing out on Antarctica, which for obvious reasons is a little more difficult!
It was interesting to hear how the name of the planet Mars, named after the Roman god of war, was pronounced in the various languages. Certainly, the sound of the word was the same or very similar to the English pronunciation in the majority of cases, however, there were a few exceptions, such as from China, Japan, Nepal, Libya and Indian Tamil. We have extracted the word Mars, where mentioned, from all of the children’s questions and with the invaluable help of our two collaborators from Italy, Fabio Pinna and Mario Mollo, created a short video – we hope you like it!
One thing that has become obvious from all the Kids2Mars activities we have conducted is how much the subject of space and space travel arouses curiosity, and how much the young people involved in the lectures and creative pursuits have done so with great enthusiasm and interest. In our view, this is exactly why outreach activities linked to Mars or the Moon or astronauts, in fact anything involving space, can be used as a tool to capture the attention and interest of children, motivating them to give more consideration to the STEM areas of education. Although the adults of today are laying and securing the foundations of human life in space, it is our children who will build on this to become the Space Generation, and perhaps in time, even future Mars colonisers!
The InnovaSpace team send their wholehearted congratulations to the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) for the landing today (Thursday, 3rd January 2019) of their unmanned Chang'e-4 space probe on the far side of the Moon, the first spacecraft to ever land on the ‘dark side’. The probe landed exactly on target in the South Pole - Aitken Basin, which is the Moon's largest and oldest recognised impact crater.
A small lunar rover, called Yutu 2 or Jade Rabbit 2, descended from the lander onto the surface of the Moon, sending the first panoramic images of a landscape that has never been seen from the surface before. All being well, the rover will explore the terrain and perform a number of tasks, including the measurement of ground composition and the use of ground-penetrating radar to probe below the surface.
The first lunar low-frequency radio astronomy experiment will also be conducted, together with an exploration for evidence of water, and an attempt to grow potatoes in a mini biosphere, among other tasks, all of which could reveal much new and valuable information about the Earth's only permanent natural satellite.
"Since the far side of the moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it's an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can 'listen' to the deeper reaches of the cosmos," said Tongjie Liu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center for the CNSA.
China became only the third nation to carry out a lunar landing, after the United States and Russia, when it landed a previous lunar rover, Chang’e-3, on the near side of the Moon in December 2013. But Chinese ambitions go much further than landing rovers on the Moon, with reports that they aim to put astronauts on the Moon by 2036 (no human feet have stepped on the lunar surface since 13th December 1972, following the end of the American Apollo missions). Chinese sights are also focused on Mars, with its first Mars probe scheduled to carry out orbital and rover exploration around 2020, and further plans for a fully operational permanent space station by 2022.
Well done to everyone at the CNSA and we look forward to hearing more on the progress of the Chang'e-4 mission!
Explanatory point: The far side of the Moon is also known as ‘the dark side’, which is in fact an inaccurate description, as both hemispheres of the Moon receive just as much sunlight as each other. However, the far side can never be seen from Earth due to the Moon rotating at the same speed that it rotates around the Earth, which results in us always seeing the same side. In fact, the two sides of the Moon are actually quite different in appearance, as can be seen in the below images.
This item first featured on the InnovaSpace blog 3/01/2019 - www.innovaspace.org
Blog written by Joan Vernikos PhD, Thirdage llc, Culpeper VA, USA
While teaching Pharmacology at Ohio State University (OSU), I was lured to NASA Ames Research Center in 1964 by Dr.Eric Ogden, the Chair in Physiology at OSU and a cardiovascular physiologist, to join him in a small unit of five research scientists. My background had been in brain/stress regulation; there was also a microbiologist, an exercise physiologist, a metabolism and a biological rhythm scientist. Very little was known about what happens to humans in space; our observations from one flight to the next slowly enabled us to form a picture of what might be happening, but progress was gradual. We had to find a way to at least simulate the effects of space flight on the ground and facilitate research that would complement and help us understand what the consequences of living in the microgravity of space might be.
Eventually, the optimal model adopted by the space science research community as a means for studying the physiological changes occurring in weightlessness during spaceflight was 6˚ Head Down Bed Rest (HDBR) or variations of this. In essence, by lying down continuously, the maximum influence of the force of gravity pulling down on us, Gz (head-to-toe), is minimised to Gx (across the chest). It was from such studies in healthy volunteers that I first noticed the similarity in changes seen in astronauts in space to those of people ageing on Earth. Muscle and bone wasting, reduced blood volume, a type of anemia, fluid and electrolyte shifts, cardiovascular deficits, and reduced aerobic capacity alterations in space all resulted on return to Earth in the astronauts experiencing fainting, and disturbed balance and coordination. These changes are also known to be the underlying causes of falls in the elderly. However, this conclusion was met with disbelief, including my own, since healthy young astronauts and HDBR volunteers recovered soon after returning to Earth or on becoming ambulatory. As knowledge accumulated and the duration of space missions grew longer, it has become clear that both the physiological response to spending time in space, as well as the ageing process on Earth, are gravity-dependent conditions.
Recovery from 6-month stays in space confirm that recovery is difficult, slower or impossible. Though bone density, for instance, may recover its density, its architecture is more like that of an older person and not likely to recover. The rate of change of bone in space is also faster than found on Earth, with around 1% loss of bone density a year on Earth, whereas in space this loss is more like 1% a week or month.
On Earth, gravity has been considered the enemy that drags us down and ages us. But the reverse is true. From birth, from the buoyancy of the womb through peak development, children intuitively learn from the beginning to use gravity in the design and function of their body. They do this by moving and orienting themselves in as many ways as possible, exposing all parts of their body to this universal stimulus. Skeletal, neuro-muscular and cardiovascular stimuli are below threshold in the microgravity of space, which results in a 10-times faster onset of atrophy. On return to Earth functional capacity is equally reduced 10-times faster than in ageing. There are comparable underlying metabolic and morphological disturbances where decreased mechano-transduction is a common factor. As more advances are emerging from the science of ageing, such as the discovery of telomeres, it has become possible to compare these with those in space. Though gravity is ever-present on Earth, it is useless if we do not use it.
Deconditioning in space from gravity deprivation, and reduced gravity influence in bed rest, have drawn attention to the medical hazards of gravity withdrawal in other gravity-related conditions, such as sedentary office work and other ageing lifestyles. Today’s prolonged hours of uninterrupted sitting in both these cases have been linked to atrophic, inflammatory and metabolic conditions, from cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular changes and ageing. The answer simply lies in relearning to use gravity, much as a child does when playing – moving from dawn to dusk, incorporating multiple changes in posture with intermittent, low intensity, high frequency movement.
Gravity clearly plays a role from cradle to grave. Understanding that role may, in fact, provide sought-after simple and inexpensive solutions to a broad variety of today’s common disorders, all the way to achieving greater independence and longevity.
"The body electric" as Walt Whitman eloquently described the human physique in the full flush of health almost 100 years ago (Forbes, April 2, 1921) "is attainable by all. It is a matter of living sanely, according to the dictates of common sense."
This item first featured on the InnovaSpace blog 20/09/17 - www.innovaspace.org
The beginning of September saw InnovaSpace Scientific Director Thais Russomano take part in a scientific meeting and workshop event at Moltrasio, in the beautiful Lake Como region of Italy. The occasion had representatives from 12 different countries, including InnovaSpace Advisory Board member Marlise A dos Santos, the current Coordinator of the MicroG research centre, PUCRS. The event, called Bellagio II, followed on from a previous and similar initiative that happened in Bellagio in 2004, and related to the application of space medicine knowledge and technology on terrestrial medicine, health sciences, human performance and longevity. The ultimate goals were to identify space medicine findings and countermeasures with the highest probability of having future terrestrial application and to develop a roadmap for the translation of these prioritised measures to future health research and intervention development here on Earth.
The invitation-only meeting covered a series of presentations on the latest and most important areas of space life sciences, such as the medical and legal issues of space missions, space travel and genetics, space radiation and pharmacy, nutrition and food systems for health and wellness, physiological fitness and exercise countermeasures, behavioural sciences in space, space physiology and medical emergencies during space missions. Thais and Marlise contributed with presentations in the areas of space pharmacy, astrobiology, space physiology and management of medical emergencies in microgravity and hypogravity environments.
Two NASA astronauts Skyped in from the US during the meeting, and Thais had the opportunity to question them on their views about the best example of technological transfer from Space to Earth. Astronaut Ellen Baker (MD) believes the knowledge gained from experiencing the circadian rhythm alterations that occur on a daily basis during a space mission to be the most interesting contribution to terrestrial medicine, with the International Space Station completing a full orbit of the Earth every 90 min at a speed of 27,000 km/h, which means the astronauts onboard see a sunrise or sunset every 45 min. Astronaut Michael Barratt (MD) considers the knowledge gained regarding human physiology alterations that occur in Space to be the most important example of knowledge transfer from Space to Earth, as it is very difficult to properly simulate through ground-based studies the effect that the removal of gravity has on our physiology.
Interestingly, the main goals of the Bellagio II meeting are in harmony with one of the areas that InnovaSpace is currently establishing, namely, the transfer of extraterrestrial technology to terrestrial applications. InnovaSpace Advisory Board member, Gustavo Dalmarco, who is an expert in technological transfer and innovation, will coordinate this new initiative, which will come under the umbrella of the InnovaSpace Space2Earth Hub.
This item first featured on the InnovaSpace blog 18/09/17 - www.innovaspace.org
Manned exploration of Mars is really only a matter of time, and some even say it is a necessity that we step foot on Martian soil. Stephen Hawking declared at a lecture in 2008 "If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before", while SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk confirmed his belief that "Humans need to be a multiplanet species" in an interview with website Slate in 2015. Currently there are two operational and mobile US Mars rovers exploring the surface of the planet, Opportunity landed successfully in 2004 and Curiosity in 2012, so there is already much we know about the surface and landscape of the Red Planet.
What awaits any visitors to Mars is a very hostile and harsh environment; its atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than Earth's and is 95% carbon dioxide; temperatures can range from -125°C near the poles in winter to +20°C at midday near the equator; and the surface is covered in a layer of dust containing very fine-grained silicate minerals that tend to stick to surfaces and could be hazardous if breathed in. So the question is how to prepare astronauts for what they are likely to confront on an inhospitable planet that lies at least 55 million kilometres away?
"An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching."
There is undoubtedly no landscape on Earth that can exactly match the harshness of the Mars conditions, however, we can get close, such as on Mauna Loa volcano, Hawaii where Hi-SEAS analogue missions take place, the Atacama desert in Peru/Chile with its Mars-like arid soils where only the most limited of bacteria can survive, and the Dhofar desert in Oman, where in February 2018 the AMADEE-18 Mars analogue will take place. The use of field research in an environment that mimics Mars conditions in some form is an excellent way of gaining experience, practicing for the 'real thing', but more importantly, understanding the advantages and limitations presented by remote science operations where access to and communications with a central control are subject to difficulties and delays.
AMADEE-18 is a simulation mission being conducted by theAustrian Space Forum under the leadership of Forum President Dr. Gernot Grömer, a global partner of InnovaSpace, and in partnership with the Sultanate of Oman. A four-week mission is planned in the Oman desert to serve as an analogue for future manned missions to Mars. This scenario will provide an excellent opportunity for the testing of equipment and procedures in simulated Mars conditions and has the added significance of human involvement, with 6 space-suited 'astronauts' being isolated from the world. Contact with a Mission Control centre in Austria will be possible, but will include a 10-minute signal delay in either direction, as would be the case on Mars.
The AMADEE-18 analogue is certain to receive much coverage as the mission gets underway, and has already featured in the mainstream media. The team at InnovaSpace will await the results produced by this mission with great interest. Whatever the findings are, the media coverage will undoubtedly attract the interest of the future generations of space explorers, perhaps stimulating and drawing them into the STEAM areas of education. Certainly the Austrian Space Forum has provided encouragement through the addition of an AMADEE-18 Junior Researchers Program, opened to students from Europe and Oman.
It is without doubt that Space has a cross-generational and universal appeal, and its beauty lies in it being a truly interdisciplinary area, something that can be used to unite different disciplines. Traditionally, this has often been difficult to achieve within a university context, where individual areas, such as biology, physics, computer science and engineering, follow their own parallel paths. However, learning can undoubtedly be maximised through the use of interdisciplinary teaching and research. The promotion of interdisciplinarity is the core concept of InnovaSpace, with the field of the Space Life Sciences being used as a tool to draw together different subject areas in an interaction that permits new knowledge construction and a deeper understanding of ideas, something that will be vital if Mars analogues are to be translated into the reality of a manned mission to the Red Planet.
This item first featured on the InnovaSpace blog 9/09/17 - www.innovaspace.org
The entrepreneur, visionary, investor and all-round Space enthusiast Elon Musk recently shared one more of his stellar ideas. Using social media, he unveiled photos of the new design of spacesuits for his Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, a California company better known as SpaceX. Astronauts within the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which will transport crew members on space missions, will use this new model of suit.
It can be seen from Musk's photos that the design of his space clothes is very different from those used since the early 1960s, when Gagarin made the first manned Earth orbit flight. Technology has greatly improved astronaut suits over the decades, making them safer and more functional, however, only now has the heavy and uncomfortable structure given way to a more modern and sleek design. SpaceX has not yet released many details about the outfit, but Musk claims the new spacesuit has been designed to not only look more appealing, but to also associate this elegance with safety.
"Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately."
Musk's revelation reminded InnovaSpace Scientific Director Thais Russomano about a course she taught for the Visual Culture and Contemporary Art (ViCCA) Master’s degree, run by Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland, in which she contributed a module on Space & Design. One of her students decided to revisit the concepts of space suits, trying to add some modernity and visual sophistication to them. Interestingly, both the student and Elon Musk shared the same problems and concern, which was the art in finding the right balance between aesthetics, functionality, and strength. It is clear that the task of creating a space boutique will not be easy, nonetheless, it would definitely seem that cosmic fashion design is about to be launched.
This item first featured on the InnovaSpace blog 3/09/17 - www.innovaspace.org
(English translation of an article published in Portuguese in the newspaper Diário Popular, Pelotas)
The next decades will undoubtedly witness greater long-term extraterrestrial space exploration, as mankind endeavours to establish Moon bases for the commercial mining of minerals, and to fulfil dreams of sending manned-missions to Mars. For such plans to be realised, many technological obstacles have yet to be overcome, which will require fresh minds, new ideas and innovation – but where will this new space industry workforce come from? Already there are reported shortages of qualified workers in the US aerospace industry, a situation repeated in the UK with a lack of skills in the STEM areas. This scenario is set to become worse as the space sector grows. For example, according to the UK Space Agency, the industry is growing four times faster than the rest of the economy and will demand many new additions to the current 70,000 strong highly-skilled workforce, as recently confirmed by former NASA astronaut Stephen Frick for City A.M. newspaper. So how will we plug this gap? How can we capture the interest and enthusiasm of the youths who will become the next space generation?
"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
While some may say the answer to these questions lie in the university systems of our societies, as new graduates channel through in the STEM areas, we at InnovaSpace firmly believe the true answer is set much further back in the educational life of a child. Children are born a blank canvas just waiting to soak up knowledge. Their minds are open and eager to learn, as they reach out to the world surrounding them – THIS is the ideal time to light the spark of interest in space through introducing opportunities to interact with the STEM areas at a basic level and in a positive enabling environment. An inspiring demonstration of this is seen in the Lockheed Martin Generation Beyond Challenge, in which technology and education are combined to bring space science into the classrooms of 9-11 year olds in an entertaining way, through the design of a space habitation module for the first crew to Mars.
InnovaSpace also seeks to open up learning opportunities to the young people who will ultimately shape the destiny of space exploration through the provision of educational modules. Very recently, InnovaSpace Scientific Director, Thais Russomano, had the opportunity to put this into practice, spending a week at King’s College London teaching pre-University students. The teenagers, who came from various regions of the UK and some from other countries, learned about manned space flight, the physiological and emotional challenges of a space mission, how astronauts live and work in microgravity, and the ways we can simulate the hostile conditions of space on the ground, and also included a visit to the Space area of the London Science Museum. The course, entitled Into Space, is just one of the modules that form part of the InnovaSpace educational program, taught primarily in English, but also offered in Spanish and Portuguese, in order to open up the modules to a broader audience. This in line with our philosophy of promoting Space Without Borders.
(this item first featured on the InnovaSpace blog 2/09/17 - www.innovaspace.org)
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