Project Leave Earth: can we survive in space?

Dec 15, 2017 · 2 min read

In 10 seconds? The answer looks like yes, but only if we take our own biosphere with us… Research suggests that the effects of space radiation and weakened gravitational field can cause significant physiological damage to humans.

Surely our bodies are not adapted to function in space? No they’re not — currently astronauts need copious conditioning, protection and countermeasures against cosmic radiation to enter space. Without this, their bodies can undergo some serious degradation. Interested in the gritty details?

  • Brain damage — Animals models show that mice exposed to radiation levels mimicking those anticipated on a trip to Mars experienced significant deterioration of nerve endings and reduced nerve density in the spinal cord. (read more)
  • Female infertility — Female astronauts are at risk of ovarian damage caused by charged iron particles in space radiation. A study in mice shows that radiation in space can interact with ovarian DNA causing oxidative damage and apoptosis (cell death). (see the evidence)

I suspect the bad news continues? Indeed, if you’re a couch potato you will have to change your habits in space! The reduction in gravity means that humans have to continuously work out to keep their muscles and bones fully functional. And wait till you read about what can happen to the your skull if you spiral into space.

  • Intracranial pressure — Extended periods in space can cause the fluid pressure around the skull to shift away from equilibrium, causing damage to vision. (read more)
  • Immune system failure — Low gravity causes structural changes in white blood cells that prevents them from activating and migrating properly to attack pathogens. (see the evidence)

This is not looking good. I want an A team if I’m leaving the planet.

Usual suspects aside, here are some extra recruits you should be considering for your spaceship:

  • A gravity expert — Unless if you want to perish of boredom in the space-gym, or slowly go blind, you want somebody to create for you an artificial gravity field; there’s already one recently patented. (see the patent)
  • A psychotherapist — Going into space will be a formidable exercise in teamwork and studies conducted among submarine crews and polar research station teams suggest behaviour-based risk factors will multiply. So we will need people who know how to select people for missions and how to prepare others for living in closed quarters. (read more)

This all sounds too depressing, do we really stand a chance out there? The European Space Agency believes we do. They have been developing MELiSSA, a minimal biosphere that can provide us with air, water and food in outer space. You’ll find this tricky if you’re squeamish though, as you’ll need to bring an army of microbes to recycle your own waste.

(Psst, we distilled 12 research papers to save you 453.4 min)

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Steve, the sparrow, represents contributions from the Sparrho Team and our expert researchers. We accredit external contributors where appropriate.

Sparrho combines human + artificial intelligence to democratise science. Follow us to stay updated with our latest, exclusive content.