Living In Space: What Are The Problems?

Living in space, while there is much prediction and conjecture about the long-term effect of living in space, there are a number of things that are now known that raise problems & are monumental in nature.

The International Space Station has finally become a reality. While there are many scientific and industrial experiments being carried out on the station, the act of living in space for an extended period may be the greatest experiment of them all.

The past forty years has led to the enrichment of man's knowledge of the effects of living in space on the human body. While there is much prediction and conjecture about the long-term effect of living in space, there are a number of things that are now known that raise problems are monumental in nature. These problems are of two types, mechanical and biological.

The first set of problems addressed here are those that are classified as mechanical. These include any problem involving the hardware of life-support in space. The environment of space requires the development of "Closed Environments" that feature the complete recycling of resources, particularly air and water. One thing that should be said is that as of today, there is no system of life-support now available that could allow men to reach Mars independent of Earth. What this means is that no "Closed Environmental" system now in place is proven capable of recycling air and water in a closed environment for a period long enough to support travel to another planet. The fact that the current International Space Station will have to be re-supplied with water and air is proof of this point and shows the problem. Ideally long-term life in space will need systems that are closed and totally recyclable. Inter-planetary space travel will remain an unfulfilled dream if this problem can't be solved. The technology to support life in space is still not capable of supporting a crew of astronauts for a period of three years (the time required for a round trip to Mars).

While there are numerous theories and proposals, one of the main purposes of the International Space Station is to test both the mechanical and biological limits of human space exploration. The goal of the station is to get data on both men and material and the effect of long durations in the environment of space. The past forty years of space travel has shown that the greatest problems facing space travelers might not be the hardware, but their bodies. One of the first things discovered was that the weightless environment of space caused some serious problems. Astronauts and Cosmonauts who spent more than a few weeks in space were found to suffer from a number of maladies upon their return to Earth. One of these, loss of calcium by the body, and the associated effects on the skeletal and nervous systems has been a concern for all those associated with manned space travel. Proposals for handling this problem include the use of artificial gravity generated by rotation, or travel by continuous acceleration. The first option is possible and most likely, the second, though possible is not currently practical.

The human body's requirements for gravity, air and water, so far have been the primary stumbling blocks to inter-planetary travel in space. While the hardware problems of space travel may be overcome by technological breakthroughs, the real barrier to inter-planetary space travel may be human beings themselves.

As we come closer to having the technology to carry hardware to Mars and other planets, it becomes clear that men need gravity and improved recycling technology to safely make the trip. The possibility of solutions to the problems is real and immediate. What seems to be almost sure is the solutions to space travel and living in space will be found when the possibility of profit from development of technologies in and for space is seen as immediately at hand. In other words when the people see opportunity to profit from space solutions will come quickly.

Men have lived and thrived in all types of environments, with all types of problems. They overcame them lived and developed them. Space is just another frontier, the final one.

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