One-year space mission: Its importance for humans in space
As of 01:33 GMT on Saturday 28th March, US astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko completed a successful journey to the International Space Station (ISS).
There they will undertake the longest ever continuous stay on the revolving platform as part of an important scientific study into the biological effects of humans living in microgravity. They are also joined by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka who is due to take part in the research for the next six months.
The main purpose of this mission is for scientists and medical professionals to gain a greater understanding of what changes may take place when the human body is placed in an environment of microgravity during an extended period of time.
At present, although there are nutritional and exercise routines in place on all missions to prevent many of the ailments which have been known to affect astronauts, knowledge of the damaging impact microgravity has on the human body is still rather limited. This is especially evident when considering aspects such as metabolic and visual impairments.
Consequently, this mission is designed to build a study into what actually takes place in the body and how to better prepare humans for longer journeys to space. This mission has been described as an “international quest in biomedical risk reduction”. NASA has declared that the “one-year mission is a stepping stone for future missions to Mars and beyond”.
According to the mission brief on NASA’s official website, the research will focus on seven key areas. They aim to investigate in-depth subtle physical, psychological and microbiotic changes within the crew’s bodies using various methods.
Functional investigations will examine the changes in the crew’s performance during the entirety of the mission using field tests and functional task tests, whilst behavioural health investigations will consider the psychological effects of the long-term exposure to microgravity by conducting cognition tests, neuro-mapping studies and sleep monitoring.
Visual impairment tests will explore the crew’s ocular health, carrying out intracranial pressure measurements and analysing the effects of fluid shifts whilst in a weightless environment. Metabolic tests will focus on integrated immune function, salivary markers, biochemical profiles and the relationship between biological markers of oxidative and inflammatory stress.
Physical performance tests will examine exercise capability with a focus on physical performance of bone, muscle and the cardiovascular system over time in a weightless environment. Microbial tests will measure changes in the microbiota of the crew. Finally, human factors will also be taken into account; these tests will delve into how astronauts interact with their environment aboard the ISS.
As mentioned above by NASA, this mission is sure to provide extensive and invaluable data, which will contribute to the safe journeys of astronauts in the future and the success of longer trips to space. The next twelve months will prove very crucial indeed.
Amaliah Sara Marmon-Halm