Brains in Space!

Brains in Space!

About

Brains in Space! is as the name suggests, about the brain in space. As a linguist, aspiring cognitive scientist, and space enthusiast, I'm interested in learning about the affects of space, space travel, and gravity on the brain and nervous system. What better way to learn than to teach? This is a space (pun intended) for exploration, learning, and sharing what knowledge is out there regarding the stellar affects of the final frontier.

Starrider – take me to the stars

Infinity and BeyondPosted by Kim Oct 26, 2018 09:53AM

In 1961, the first human being was launched into space, Yuri Gagarin, shortly followed by Alan Shepard less than a month later [1]. At the time of writing this, that is roughly fifty-seven years ago. Before that time, space flight was simply fantasy, the stuff of sci-fi writing, the stuff of the future. Now, space travel is not only our future, but it’s both our present and past. We have history with space now; a position that wasn’t even conceivable sixty years ago. Who would ever believe that space travel would be part of our history as human beings?

Regardless of our past, space is still the future, with active plans being made for travel to Mars. Mars, a trip that would take almost a year (roughly 7 to 8 months) in flight and another 2 years on the planet just to be at the right alignment to fly back home (when Mars is the closest to Earth in its orbit) [2]. The big question as I see it though, is can humans take it? I mean, life as we know it, humans included, has evolved and developed to adapt to conditions on Earth. Earth, a planet with a gravitational force of 1g, a cushy protective atmosphere, delicious nutrients, and a cozy heating system [3]. What if we take all that away? What happens to our bodies with no gravity or with more gravity? How do we account for the hostile environment without our atmosphere to act as security blanket? What if?

Although we may know more about the universe, our solar system, and technology in general than we did fifty-seven years ago, there are still a lot we don’t know about humans in space. It’s somewhat common knowledge that astronauts returning home after time in space have muscle atrophy and loss of bone density [4], [5]. Although these are serious issues that need to be resolved for long-term space habitation, the brain runs the show. So what happens to our brains?

There is a theoretical debate that the human mind is the most complex object in the universe. Although I won’t go into specifics of the debate here, what it illustrates is just how complex and important the brain is. The brain regulates breathing, balance, coordination, motor control, vision, emotion, hearing, analytical reasoning, problem solving, and language just to name a few of its functions. Without a fully functioning and reasoning brain, things will start to go awry, which is critical when you’re about 140 million miles away from home [6]. Like our bones and muscles, our brains developed with Earth’s gravity. What happens when you take that away?

My hope for upcoming posts is to explore what we do know about the affects of space on the brain. What have we observed with returning astronauts? What sorts of experiments are we doing on earth to simulate conditions in space? What are the acting forces and what are the long-term effects? What are the questions we should be asking?


Resources:

[1] “Early Manned Spaceflight.” Internet: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/space-exploration/early-manned-spaceflight/, [Oct.26, 2018].

[2] “How long does it take to travel to Mars?” Internet: https://www.mars-one.com/faq/mission-to-mars/how-long-does-it-take-to-travel-to-mars, [Oct.26, 2018].

[3] “What is G Force?” Internet: http://www.gforces.net/what-is-g-force-meaning.html, [Oct.26, 2018].

[4] “Musculo-Skeletal System: Bone and Muscle Loss.” Internet: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Preparing_for_the_Future/Space_for_Earth/Space_for_health/Musculo-skeletal_system_Bone_and_Muscle_loss, April 26, 2017 [Oct.26, 2018].

[5] E. Endo, “Researchers study impact of space radiation on bone and muscle health.” Internet: https://phys.org/news/2017-12-impact-space-bone-muscle-health.html, Dec. 14, 2017 [Oct.26, 2018].

[6] “How far is it to Mars?” Internet: https://sservi.nasa.gov/articles/how-far-is-it-to-mars/, [Oct.26, 2018].