back to article I've arrived on Mars. Argggh, my back!

New research brings more bad news to astronauts thinking about long-haul space flights as spinal muscles shrink after months in space, scientists have found. Floating around in space in an environment with little or no gravity is not good for the human body. Along with decreased bone density, nausea, a puffy face, possible …

  1. theModge

    Yoga

    It'd be interesting to see if yoga still brings benefits with not gravity to exercise against. Creativity with springs \ elastic may be called for.

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Yoga

      At least Yogic Flying works in space.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Yoga

        Just give the poor sods a rowing machine. Shirley!

        (Not that I can see any reason why arriving with c. 80%* of normal muscle mass need necessarily be considered a problem when travelling to a destination with just 37.8% of "normal" gravity... I'd have thought it'd still be quite a surplus)

        *?: Or whatever? The pertinent figures in the article seemed strangely encapsulated in a peculiar relativistic cipher. Really most odd.

  2. King Jack
    Angel

    God particle

    It is time to put the god particle to use and invent a gravity generator. The same ones used on the Enterprise. That would fix all back problems, may even lead to force fields. Time to patent my ideas...

    1. Chemist

      Re: God particle

      "Time to patent my ideas..."

      In most of the civilized world you can't patent ideas only implementations - so get on with it !

      1. Swarthy Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: God particle

        "In most of the civilized world you can't patent ideas only implementations"

        So you patent it in the US - Job done.

      2. King Jack

        Re: God particle

        @ Chemist Whooooosh!!

    2. Yesnomaybe

      Re: God particle

      Or just build a spin-able habitat module. It is starting to look like the only sensible solution.

  3. Kharkov
    Facepalm

    A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

    While it's useful to know the long-term effects of exposure to zero-g, why hasn't anyone explained why people haven't started using different ways to actually provide some gravity?

    Robert Zubrin tells the story (possibly apocryphal, I haven't found any details on-line) of the late 30's, as fighters started to get up into the high atmosphere, the pilots blacked out and planes and pilots were lost. Doctors wanted to study the effects of low oxygen and things continued until the Generals got fed up and called in the engineers who added a small tank of oxygen, a hose and a mask and solved the problem.

    NASA has spent huge sums of money on the study of zero-g but surely astronauts on their way to Mars would at least spin their ship to provide some g? Zubrin himself talks about tethers and rotating your people-carrier with a counterweight.

    So, problem going to Mars? This is the story of the dog that didn't bark...

    1. asphytxtc

      Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

      I think this is mainly a cost problem really. To do proper, long term, research into artificial gravity (and I mean something more involved than say Gemini 11 where they tethered two capsules together) would require putting a huge amount of infrastructure into orbit. A rotating space vehicle would have to have a large enough radius to generate 1g (or even half a g, that would probably do) through centripetal force without causing disorientation in the occupants via the Coriolis effect. Keeping the spin fairly slow, say about 2 rpm, would require a radius of some 50-60 meters at least.. a diameter comparable to the length of the international space station.

      Whilst it's certainly achievable, that's a lot of stuff to put into orbit for just an experiment. It's certainly well within the reach of some future rockets though, SpaceX's ITS booster, for example, would probably make it financially feasible within two / three launches. I certainly feel it would be a research benefit. With proposed transit times to mars around an average 115 days though (to quote SpaceX) I think the impact of this would be fairly minimal, especially considering Mars gravity is a third of Earths. Less time in microgravity for a start, and less of a shock to adjust to on arrival.

      Coming back to Earth after a two years stay in 1/3rd g and then three months in 0g however.. I can't see that being a pleasant experience!!

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

        "Keeping the spin fairly slow, say about 2 rpm, would require a radius of some 50-60 meters at least.. a diameter comparable to the length of the international space station."

        Early science fiction authors often had large rotating space stations with the "tyre" being the occupied bit. The problem of getting all that mass up there was ignored, so it was still really a "magical" solution. 2001 was still fantasy rather than science fiction, not because of the monoliths but because of the size of spacecraft required - rather as Gormenghast passed over in silence how a pre-industrial society could build and maintain such a huge edifice given the apparent human resource constraints.

        Obviously we need a magical drive to push the craft at 1g to the half way mark and then decelerate at 1g all the way to landing. The journey would also be an awful lot shorter.

        Perhaps the real solution to manned spaceflight is to stop messing about with inadequate vehicles and work seriously on physics to identify an energy supply which will actually get enough stuff up there to make things really feasible.

        1. Filippo

          Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

          We definitely should work seriously on physics, but there's the distinct chance that an energy supply capable of getting enough stuff up there is simply impossible. We should also work on how to get and use resources that are already out of the gravity well.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

            "but there's the distinct chance that an energy supply capable of getting enough stuff up there is simply impossible"

            Personally, I consider that is most likely the case, but I'm a miserable old git. There may be an extremely good reason why we haven't heard from other civilisations - that the energy requirements to get to the level at which it becomes possible either exceed the capabilities of any habitable planet, or exceed what is politically possible (e.g. if it was concluded that in order to build and maintain a Mars colony we would need to exterminate 99% of the human race to lift enough stuff without catastrophic climate change.)

            There's a reason why economics is called the "dismal science". If economics hadn't got there first, the same label could be applied to thermodynamics, whose laws state roughly:

            1. You have to play in the casino.

            2. You can only lose or break even.

            3. You can only break even if you're dead.

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

              could be applied to thermodynamics, whose laws state roughly:

              1. You have to play in the casino.

              2. You can only lose or break even.

              3. You can only break even if you're dead.

              "Heat can't move from the cooler to the hotter,

              You can try it if you like, but you'd far better notta"..

              (Flanders & Swann)

        2. Paul_Murphy

          Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

          Perhaps the real solution to manned spaceflight is to stop messing about with inadequate vehicles and work seriously on physics to identify an energy supply which will actually get enough stuff up there to make things really feasible.

          Like a nuclear powered rocket maybe? up to 8,000,000 tons enough? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

            nuclear rockets are an _AWESOME_ idea, until the protesters and enviro-wackos show up and sue you into oblivion...

            (stupid anti-technology protesters and enviro-wackos - they need a CLUE BAT)

            seriously, though, the ideal propellant would be super-heated steam made from ocean water, heated with some kind of nuclear reaction. A nuclear rocket could make that happen. Great for deep space, too.

            1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

              Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

              "seriously, though, the ideal propellant would be super-heated steam made from ocean water"

              Think about it. The specific impulse of water is not high - you need a large volume. And ocean water contains a large amount of dissolved stuff that becomes corrosive when hot - which is why steam ships rapidly stopped using sea water in the boiler feed, and why direct cooled Diesel engines are limited to about 60-70C for cooling water. The same problems apply in space only more so, because you can't easily send people into the boiler to clean it out.

              Incidentally I believe Feynman had the original patent on the nuclear engine, which he considered a joke because it wasn't really feasible.

              1. cray74

                Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

                The specific impulse of water is not high - you need a large volume.

                That depends on the exhaust temperature. Low temperature steam rockets might achieve 180Isp. But hydrogen-oxygen rockets achieve relatively high exhaust velocities with (mostly) water exhaust - Isps of 460 have been demonstrated. Engines like solid core nuclear rockets, which run cooler than chemical rockets to avoid melting their fuel, should get better than 400. The Rooskies tested ammonia and ammonia-alcohol mixtures (similar to water in molecular mass) with nuclear rockets and were estimating 500-550Isp. Of course, ammonia dissociates at those temperatures, lowering the exhaust's molecular mass and raising specific impulse. Water's too stable for that so it's specific impulse would be a bit lower for a given temperature.

                But, as you noted, water brings a problem with corrosion even if it's salt-free. Ammonia was selected because it didn't bring those oxidation problems.

            2. TVU Silver badge

              Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

              "nuclear rockets are an _AWESOME_ idea, until the protesters and enviro-wackos show up and sue you into oblivion...

              (stupid anti-technology protesters and enviro-wackos - they need a CLUE BAT)"

              Yep, the way round the bodily degradation issue due to lack of gravity is to get to Mars and back by a quicker and more efficient propulsion method such VASIMR and NERVA rocket engines, both of which are do-able with current technology.

        3. ma1010 Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

          Yes, we do need a better energy supply, that's for certain.

          However, putting the materials up into space to build a "2001" type space station is not fantasy. Those who read the rest of Clarke's books would tell you the material came from the moon and was launched into orbit using an electromagnetic catapult, which is not at all fantasy. There are plenty of materials there, and the moon's lack of air and lower gravity make such a scheme very feasible for getting materials into Earth orbit.

          One would have to figure in the cost of setting up a lunar colony (not cheap) and mining and building a catapult there, but once it was a going concern, the per kilo cost of putting material into Earth orbit would be a fraction of using rockets (even SpaceX ones) from Earth.

          1. Katie Saucey

            Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans... @ma101

            Launching material off the moon might be relatively easy, and maybe even mining it won't be to hard, but most of our ore refining methods rely heavily on gravity separations (at least at some point). That's a whole lot of new (and heavy) equipment to design and ship to the moon before you get your first batch of moon-metals.

          2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

            was launched into orbit using an electromagnetic catapult

            With, presumably, hardwired controls to stop $TodaysBadGuy from taking it over and using it for orbital anvil delivery..

        4. SlackJawedYokel

          Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

          Bring on the space elevator(s)!

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: Space Elevators

            The cost in rockets of putting the material up is massive. The cable materials have to be extended from the geosynchronous platform. Also we have no proven material for the cable.

            The Space Elevator's ongoing maintenance is considerable too. A fusion / plasma torch rocket is frankly more believable than a space elevator on Earth.

            An Elevator WILL work on the Moon.

            Kevlar might actually be strong enough for a space elevator on Mars.

        5. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

          Why a wheel? Why not a module tethered to a large asteroid by space-age cables?

          Spin it up, reel out the module on the cables and Bob's your Capcom. No problems with shifting mass as you engineer things so the big rock is many times the mass of the system at the end of the cables.

          Reel out far enough and Coriolis forces won't have everyone throwing up when the turn their heads too.

          1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: Stevie Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

            ".....Why not a module tethered to a large asteroid by space-age cables?...." Because (a) asteroids don't come as neatly balanced packages, they're usually odd-shaped masses of materials of differing density and rigidity, making the task of controlling their trajectory and spin a complex task; and (b) because an asteroid might disintegrate under the strains of both being spun, pulled on by the cable's anchor, and driven through space by the main engine.

            A better idea might be a spun central core with the main engine and supplies, plus two counter-balancing modules for the crew on tethers. A mini gymn in each crew module for exercising and retaining muscle density and job done. The problem I do foresee is that non-rigid tethers mean you would have to reel the modules in before braking the core at your destination.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Stevie A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

              No need for two living modules, one is enough. With the bulk of the ship mass on one end of the tether, the living module will do most of the spinning, and feel most of the centripetal force.

              In answer to those who suggest massive cables are required for the system, that's not correct. Quite modest cabling can withstand very large loading. If you let it out to several hundred meters you smooth out the negative effects a lot, and there's no need to move between living modules 'cause there's only one.

              In fact, the main module would have a slight g-force, perfect for 'light' sleepers. ;-)

      2. Known Hero

        Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

        why a ring ?

        Why not a pillar with two modules at either end ?

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

          Actually two modules tethered with a cable, orbiting a common centre has been suggested.

          Wheels and rings

          1G isn't feasible due to Coriolis forces if too small, and no strong enough material existing if it's large!

          However perhaps 1/3G or a bit more might be enough. Coupled with a clever elastomer structured bodysuit.

          1. cosymart
            Happy

            Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

            Body Suit.... You mean we might finally get proper space suits like these http://tinyurl.com/gvscthm :-)

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

            "Actually two modules tethered with a cable, orbiting a common centre has been suggested."

            The apparent simplicity of this idea hides the unpleasant problems that crop up as soon as an astronaut in one pod moves, even slightly, changing the centre of mass of the module he's in and therefore the rotational velocity of it relative to the other module. You can only really use dampers to correct motion along the axis of the cable, leaving the relative movements of the two modules in 2 translational and 3 rotational degrees of freedom undamped.

            i.e. unless you want to be constantly firing thrusters to keep the motion of each module stable, don't try this design for your spaceship.

            It could perhaps work with something that looked like an Eagle from "Space 1999" turning end over end and flying sideways.

            1. Mage Silver badge

              Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

              Yes, the stability of the cable & two craft approach is rubbish.

        2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

          Another reason to use a ring is that it allows people to walk from one place to another. If you put two modules on the ends of a beam, then to get from one to the other you have a long "climb" to get from one module to the centre and then a long "decent" to get to the other module. Climbs and descents significantly increase the risk of injury from falls compared to something where you can walk "on the flat".

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

            Rings are better/best, but need to be quite big to reduce Coriolis forces, thus materials limit you to about 1/3 G to have a safety margin.

            Realistically in terms of shielding, gravity, materials etc, we are still at remote probe stage of exploration, even a moon base would be challenging, and people wouldn't be able to stay much longer per person than on ISS. It would have to be underground for shielding (see "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and many other decent moonbase stories. Not Space 1999)

            1. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

              Mage, The moon would be an excellent test bed to study the effects of reduced gravity on the human body as well as ISRU (in-situ resource utilization). The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of my favorite books. RAH presents many things as a fait accompli, but he does suggest some very interesting ideas. I have a feeling that a moon base will be less expensive and complicated to construct than an orbiting ring proposed by Gerard K. O'Neill. There might even be some commercial possibilities that could help pay for the endeavor at some point.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

        "A rotating space vehicle would have to have a large enough radius to generate 1g (or even half a g, that would probably do)"

        And that's a fundamental question right there that needs answering eventually. Just how much gravity does the human body need so as not to degrade more than usual over a the months or year(s) of a mission? Say they make it to Mars and find that a long stay in 1/3rd G is bad for them too?

        Maybe sometime soon we will see a couple of large Bigelows joined by a tether or even a tube people can get up and down with a docking module in the centre point. (why am I hearing The Blue Danube Waltz in my head?)

      4. Esme

        Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

        Two Bigelow B330 units, one manned, and with an additional orbital manouvering unit docked, in case of emergencies. The other with autonomous scientific experiments and ballast, joined by a dozen kevlar/carbon fibre/whatever latest best tether material is cables; add spin. Investigate effects of LOW gravity (maybe start with 0.1G then go to 0.2G, etc, perhaps)? - that'll get some kind of handle on whether less than 1G mitigates the effects felt in 0G, and to what extent. We could do this now with currently available technology, although I wouldnt; blame 'them' one bit for being cautious re planning for astronaut rescue in all situations (eg: catastrophic failure of all tethers simultaneously), plus how does one regain control of a unit the size of B330 unit that's one of a pair flung apart by centrifugal force?

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

      many science fiction authors have written about viable artificial gravity solutions. Perhaps the more obvious one could be the 'gemini tether' someone else mentioned.

      OK here's the idea: Extend two "gravity modules" 10 to 20 meters, using very strong cables [like the ones used for elevators on Earth]. Provide an inflatable tunnel between them, made of the same stuff you might find on a typical work site, going down a manhole or something. It all collapses nicely for launch, acceleration, and deceleration. For the bulk of the trip, it's extended. Careful use of thrusters cold provide the spin, and get rid of it when it's time to decelerate. And sliding weights (computer controlled) could be used for balance, something you might find in an industrial washing machine for the spin cycle [if they're not just using water for the same purpose].

      you don't need a full 1G, either. 1/4G or 1/2G would be better than 0G. And you can just minimize the disorientation that fast-spin might cause, rather than trying to eliminate it entirely. [many engineering choices are compromises between multiple ideals, like rounding off at 'enough' digits instead of calculating to ridiculous precision...]

      In any case I remember reading books written in the 1950's that seemed to have most of these details worked out. Most likely some bright bulb could come up with a workable solution for a reasonable cost.

      but, there's more MONEY in "researching", and the scientists who do the research will get to play with lots of cool toys at (public?) expense...

    3. ridley

      Re: A never-ending study on how to mess up humans...

      Do the math, the effect of spinning a small diameter spacecraft is negligible and can lead to some undesirable effects like different amount of "G" on your feet and head.

      To spin up and have a reasonable approx to 1G means a really large diameter spacecraft and big engineering problems.

      Lets get to Mars first, after all "G" on Mars is less so you don't need as big back muscles.

      What do you mean you want to come back?

  4. Alan Sharkey

    Spin is the answer

    Why not just spin the craft to simulate gravity? Is that too simple for NASA?

    Alan

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Spin is the answer

      Any ship designed like that is going to be immensely more complex and expensive than one which does not. Plus, if it breaks, you'll still need to know all this stuff.

    2. oldcoder

      Re: Spin is the answer

      I think the problem is "how fast".

      To achive 1G requires a minimum inside diameter of about 32 feet. Of course this means it has to rotate over 9.5 times per minute.

      Then you have to put it inside something else... and deal with bearings between the rotating part and non-rotating part, rotation balance (you don't want it to act like an unbalanced washing machine - it would tear the ship apart).

      If you rotate the entire ship - now you cant service anything from the outside without first stopping the rotation (need a lot of fuel). You can't go outside except at the axis of rotation or you get thrown away from the ship... You have a harder time making cource corrections (the ship is a gyroscope). Trouble with fuel balances, pumps...

      If you try to make only the sleeping quarters rotate, you don't get the full benefit of the gravity (less than 1/3 time there), you have to deal with bearings, navigation issues, balances...

      You also end up with a MUCH larger ship required .

      The most likely thing to happen is that you get three ships. One to get to the transport before departure, one mother ship for the transport, another to go from the transport to surface.

      And you get to make the transport as large as you need, with all the shielding you need. Live inside a rotating cylinder (bigger than 32 feet in diameter) inside non-rotating shielding, and gimbal mounted so the external propulsion can move around it for navigation purposes.

      There is a "spin" calculator that provides a lot of information about simulating gravity. (You also have to be large enough not to cause vertigo).

      http://www.artificial-gravity.com/sw/SpinCalc/SpinCalc.htm

      1. Justicesays
        Happy

        Re: Spin is the answer

        Two part solution,

        A spin that provides somewhat less than 1g, say 1/3 g

        + lead-lined helmets and shoulder pads!

        Just try not to look down too much..or topple over... or move too fast and forget it takes longer to stop with a few 10's of kgs of lead about your person.

        Still, might be something in it!

        Alternatively, several sizes too small (in the vertical direction) rubber onesies might serve to put some gravity like pressure on the spine.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Gimp

          Re: Spin is the answer

          "Alternatively, several sizes too small (in the vertical direction) rubber onesies might serve to put some gravity like pressure on the spine."

          That might attract a different sort of applicant for the mission.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Spin is the answer

        If you rotate the entire ship - now you cant service anything from the outside without first stopping the rotation (need a lot of fuel). You can't go outside except at the axis of rotation or you get thrown away from the ship...

        If you ignore the life support suit that the spacewalkers wear, this is the same as working on high bridges/buildings etc, like a Steeplejack. The SteepleJack can climb on the outside of a high building with the right equipment, just as I can walk across the Millau viaduct without plummeting to earth.

        1. oldcoder

          Re: Spin is the answer

          That is part of the problem.

          The farther away from the spin axis the greater the push away gets. Adding the weight of the suit and you can't pull yourself back...

        2. IsJustabloke Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Spin is the answer

          "just as I can walk across the Millau viaduct without plummeting to earth"

          Not without being arrested or squished by a huge French lorry though...

      3. John Sturdy
        Boffin

        Re: Spin is the answer

        You don't need to stop the rotation to, for example, connect to a supply / refuelling ship; you can either have a section on the axis that turns (relative to the main body of the ship) on bearings, but is stationary as seen from outside; or you can spin the supply ship before docking.

        Propellor-head icon, because they'll be good at managing all these rotating and counter-rotating and co-rotating things.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spin is the answer

        "...deal with bearings between the rotating part and non-rotating part" Why have a non-rotating part, what would you want to dock with en route to Mars?

        "...unbalanced washing machine..." this only happens because the centre of rotation does not align with the fixed point that the washing machine's drum is rotating about. A spinning spacecraft isn't attached to anything (and there are no aerodynamic effects) so it will spin around it natural C of G. It will not be unbalance.

        I'd go for a simple design - a spinning system that uses a steel cable to tie a crew module at one end of the cable and with a counterweight** on the other end.

        If the cable is 100m long and of negligible mass, and the crew model is 10 times the mass of the counterweight, then the whole lot only needs to spin at about 9.5 rpm to get 1G (if my 35 year old O level physics is right*). This doesn't sound too difficult to achieve.

        I'd start with the counterbalance attached to the space module and get the whole lot pointing towards Mars at the correct velocity. I'd then get it spinning perpendicular to the direction of travel and slowly pay out the cable attaching the module & counterbalance.

        {*Posting anon because my 35 year old physics O-level is probably wrong}

        {**Can something be a counterweight in the absence of gravity?}

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Spin is the answer

          >A spin that provides somewhat less than 1g, say 1/3 g + lead-lined helmets and shoulder pads!

          Just a thought: A very wide brimmed hat, worn in a vertical wind tunnel (think of the opposite of those wind tunnels that sky-divers use for practice!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Spin is the answer

          "I'd start with the counterbalance attached to the space module and get the whole lot pointing towards Mars at the correct velocity. I'd then get it spinning perpendicular to the direction of travel and slowly pay out the cable attaching the module & counterbalance."

          The long cable length does not address the rotational stability of the crew module, which will need thrusters to make sure it isn't twisting around any of its three rotational degrees of freedom within it's rotating frame of reference. No matter what you make it from, it will also act as a giant spring, allowing oscillations to build up along it's axis. You're also creating a more complex pendulum arrangement than you realise due to the continually shifting centre of mass of the crew module. This means that the force acting through the cable will often not be acting through the centre of mass of the crew module, causing translational and rotational oscillations to build up as the crew react to the movements. A passive mechanical damping system is not going to be good enough to stop this, because it's got nothing to react against except when the centre of mass of the module aligns with the cable, which will only happen in transient moments.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Spin is the answer

            That crew module is going to have very considerable mass, at least 20-40 times what the crew masses. I don't see movements by the crew affecting the module all that much, and if it starts at a nice balanced state then any internal motions cannot really alter that balance in a permanent way. Your suggestion that internal movements would lead to serious oscillations isn't correct IMO.

            Also I believe you don't need an external control point to damp what oscillations do occur, since the system motions as a whole are not altered. Several suspended and heavily damped weights should do the trick.

  5. hugo tyson
    WTF?

    How much decrease in muscle mass?

    The sentence in the article is a bit mangled, do you mean the muscle cross-sectional area decreased to about 80% of what it was originally, the range being 86% in the best case and 72% in the worst case?

    Or if it decreased by 86%-72% does that mean only 14% to 28% remained (which seems terrifying)?

    1. AndyS

      Re: How much decrease in muscle mass?

      The sentence is "The cross-sectional area of the muscle mass decreased from 86 per cent to 72 per cent." So, a 16% decrease.

      What that percentage is of, I'm not sure - maybe the total cross section includes blood vessels, tendons, nerves etc in addition to the muscle? Or maybe (more likely?) it's comparing to a fixed area of a scan, covering the muscle and surrounding tissue?

  6. Kolchack
    Trollface

    so the best candidates for a flight to Mars

    would be spineless politicians?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: so the best candidates for a flight to Mars

      Just to check, we are talking about a one-way trip, aren't we?

      1. Robert Moore
        Coat

        Re: so the best candidates for a flight to Mars

        we are talking about a one-way trip

        This is definitely a "B Ark" type situation.

      2. MrT

        Re: so the best candidates for a flight to Mars

        ESA is one step ahead of you there - they've just successfully tested a suitable landing procedure...

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: so the best candidates for a flight to Mars

        Just to check, we are talking about a one-way trip, aren't we?

        And we can save weight by not providing essentials like, say, life support.

  7. druck Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Exploration is dangerous

    With thinking like this we would never have discovered half the world, America included. The explorers of the past made huge sacrifices on long sea voyages, with damage to their health far worse than loosing some muscle mass or an increased cancer risk, for those that survived at all.

    The astronauts are willing to take the necessary risks to explore another planet, it just needs the pen pushers and politicians to have the bottle to do something which may go wrong.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Exploration is dangerous

      Not much point in spending all that time and money for the non-cancerous survivors to walk on Mars if they slip a disc when the descent parachutes crack open.

      Joking aside, it is another hurdle which has to be overcome or at the very least ameliorated. Taking risks is all well and good, but the cumulative risk of all these things has to be born in mind.

      Columbus, Cabot and Cook are famous because they succeeded. With the possible exception of Cook (in two of his three voyages, anyway) they didn't actually know what they were letting themselves in for. They thought it wasn't going to be as bad as it was due to ignorance rather than calculation. Also Columbus and Cabot were driven by the desire to make money rather than to explore.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Exploration is dangerous

      Lots and lots of explorers died. We only remember the few survivors. And they'd usually massively underestimated the risks.

      The difference here is that if we kill our astronauts, we get to do it on live TV. Which is embarrassing for the government and upsets people.

      It's all very well complaining about modern health and safety, but it simply isn't acceptable to kill hundreds of people just to build a tunnel under the Thames. And neither should it be. Proper risk assessment means understanding the risks you're taking - and then you can decide whether or not they're acceptable. If not, you have to work out how to ameliorate them, or even avoid them. This is called progress.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Exploration is dangerous

        It also costs a lot more to send another mission if one fails.

        Wooden ships are a lot cheaper than interplanetary craft*

        *At least they were before Brexit.

  8. AMBxx Silver badge
    Coat

    Space travellers often complain of...

    Sorry, I just loved the 'often' in the same sentence as 'space travellers'

  9. netminder

    'simple'solution

    Orient the craft so the floor is on toward the rear & accelerate at 9 meters per second per second. slow down near midpoint flip the craft 180 degrees and decelerate at 9 meters per second per second and not only do you solve the weightlessness issue but you arrive at Mars in a matter of days.

    Tiny technical challenge, at midpoint the craft will be approaching the speed of light but I am a big picture guy I'll leave the fiddling details to others.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: 'simple'solution

      "accelerate at 9 meters per second per second. slow down near midpoint flip the craft 180 degrees and decelerate at 9 meters per second per second"

      Yep. First, capture an ice asteroid for reaction mass, then loft of your nuclear powered engine...

    2. Chemist

      Re: 'simple'solution

      "at midpoint the craft will be approaching the speed of light "

      I'm sure you're joking but where did you get the infinitely powerful but extremely lightweight engine/fuel ?

      1. fandom Silver badge
        1. Alan J. Wylie

          Re: 'simple'solution

          <Red Thunder>

          Reminds me in some ways of "Welcome to Mars" by James Blish

    3. cray74

      Re: 'simple'solution

      Tiny technical challenge, at midpoint the craft will be approaching the speed of light but I am a big picture guy I'll leave the fiddling details to others.

      It takes approximately 1 year at 1G of acceleration to get close to light speed. A maximum distance flight to Mars (~2.5AU, with a little detour to avoid the unlicensed nuclear reactor between Earth and Mars) with 1G constantly accelerating and braking, would take ~4.5 days. Peak velocity at the mid-point turnover will be ~0.6% of light-speed.

  10. User McUser

    Two questions...

    First, isn't Mars' gravity something like .4G? Would the reported decrease in muscle mass even matter once you got there given the ~60% reduction in weight?

    Second, why can't NASA just develop a training regiment that will build up these muscles whilst the astronauts are still on Earth? That way when they lose some of their muscle mass they're still at or above the "normal" range and once on Mars they can resume the training in anticipation of the return trip. Seems like the cheapest and simplest possible solution to me.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Two questions...

      This is Ground Control to Major Tom

      Take your steroid pills and put your helmet on.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Two questions...

      Mars gravity is about .33G and while there is a reduction in weight, there isn't a reduction in mass. Some tasks will be easier, but others will take just as much muscle as they would on Earth.

      It won't matter how much you have buffed out on Earth before a 6+ month trip in 0G. Astronauts that do long stints in space lose muscle mass, bone mass and develop symptoms similar to type 2 diabetes. They often have vision problems that take time to overcome and are easily fatigued until they can work be up to living on Earth. The first crews to land on Mars will need to work very hard to establish themselves from day one. They won't have the luxury of recovering from 0G health issues.

      The best approach may be to restart development of nuclear powered rockets that can make the trip in far less time and maybe even boost all the way there. Those rockets, or at least the propulsion section will need to be assembled and launched from orbit for what should be obvious reasons. They may even need to be launched out of orbit with standard rocket propellents before starting their nuclear engines.

      Returning to Earth will require the astronauts to enter into a vigorous workout regime but it will be easier than coming back from a long term stay on a space station if the transit time isn't too long.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm....

    With the right Nanites enhancements and a suitably designed and constructed exoskeleton...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    Mars Exploration

    Who said anything about coming back? :D

  13. Pirate Dave
    Pirate

    On a positive note...

    obviously the Martians haven't worked-out this physiology-of-long-distance-space-travel part either, or we'd already be pwned and covered in red vines!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Devil

      Re: On a positive note...

      Who says they haven't?

      For my proof: I give you the unnaturally orange Donald Trump. You're not telling me you thougth that hair was human are you?

      In Britain's case, they tried to colonise the capital, but missed a bit and so now control Essex...

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: On a positive note...

        Red != Orange

        You're thinking of Oompa Loompas, not Martians.

  14. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    The answer is Stevie's Patent Astronaut Spring-Assisted Spinal Compression Leotard.

    Worn as underwear the garment is a teflon leotard over-fitted with woven carbon-nanotube straps running over the shoulders and under the crotch. These straps are cut halfway up the stomach and back, and extra-strong coil springs are riveted in place using a special adjustable fitting.

    Once donned, the poor lumbar-challenged astronaut simply has a fellow crewmember apply the special torque wrench to the adjusting bolts, tensioning the springs (and the straps) and forcing the spine back into its more normal crunched configuration by pulling the shoulders toward the crotch.

    The inclusion of the special adjustable fitting allows this wonderful garment to be used on any moon or smaller-than-Earth planet without incurring extra cost. The astronaut on the moon will apply six clicks of the torque wrench to each adjuster, and when on Mars loosen them off three clicks. QE2.

    Sadly, visits to Jupiter will not be possible using Stevie's Patent Astronaut Spring-Assisted Leotard, but a second garment is under development by Stevie Labs as I type. I cannot say too much until the patents are safely in place, but the basic idea involves a special girdle fitted with lugs over the hips to which are attached small hydraulic rams that are connected to padded inserts in the armpits held in place by a woven carbon nanotube halter.

    The crushing effects of Jupiter's mighty gravity pull on the astronaut's back will be countered by a few pumps on a handy lever, forcing the hips and shoulders apart and allowing the spine to relax into its proper configuration.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Bah!

      Have you considered the dangerous effects on the astronauts of months cooped up in tiny, cramped ships on their way to Jupiter? If you don't have a safety system built in to stop it, then if your astronauts should ever quarrel and resort to bullying, what you've actually designed is Stevie's Patent Astronaut Hydraulic-Ram-Assisted Wedgie Girdle...

      1. MrT

        Re: Bah!

        They both need a rethink - NASA likes nice acronyms, but SPAS-ASCL and SPAH-RAWG sound more like parts codes for a drinks dispenser. The key thing is that the acronym makes more sense as an acronym than as the full title, which normally ends up with random words added to make the acronym work. Something like Stevie's Patented Injury-Neutralising Astronaut Lifesuit - Terrestrial Acclimatising Polyamide...

        Still, as far as past references, at least there's the Atomic Wedgie, which has the added bonus word 'Atomic' in it, and could easily be made in a UFO-spec purple/silver foil combo. And maybe spinning somone around in that will help their spine, although could also hinder other aspects of their anatomy.

      2. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Have you considered the dangerous effects

        No. There are none.

        The objections you raise are an artifact of your research database consisting of episodes of The Twilight Zone rather than NASA studies of Real Astronaut Space Shenanigans.

        As for the pettifogging complaints about initial slang and acronyms, I prefer to hew to my British heritage and employ a vernacular more in tune with the Pseudo-Victorian Steampunk Aesthetics young people seem to prefer. This engages youth, the future of the race, rather than blinded-by-the-establishment-mindset NASA "experts".

        And if it is a choice between attracting the attention of sweaty men who like to speak in cryptic acronyms to make themselves feel important or young ladies who wear their corsets on the outside, I know which I'm choosing.

  15. Nunyabiznes

    Handicapped

    Sounds like the perfect scenario for previously handicapped persons to excel - at least those with lower spinal cord injuries.

    Or perhaps some of our soldiers that are lower extremity amputees now thanks to a certain ongoing conflict.

    ? I'm not a doctor or an expert on the effects of space on human biology so I could be completely off.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Handicapped

      That was actually proposed back in the early stages of the Space Race. Amputees save weight, food supplies (allegedly) and who needs legs in space. The plus was the design of spacesuits. This did get picked or maybe actually the thought was planted by various Science Fiction writers. NASA and most governments couldn't bring themselves to do it as the "heroes" needed to be male, white, tall, handsome, cleft-chinned, fighter or at least test pilots, etc... The Image was everything. Maybe it still is.

  16. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Go

    What we really need is a catchy motto...

    Mankind's colonization of the heavens--put your back into it!!

  17. Muckminded

    Extremely fascinating

    that there is a journal named "Spine".

    1. Fink-Nottle

      Re: Extremely fascinating

      I'd advise not opening the pages too widely.

  18. herman Silver badge

    Funny, but one doesn't need to do much flying to get to Mars: You could just stop in the right point in the Earth orbit and wait for Mars to get to you...

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      You could just stop in the right point in the Earth orbit and wait for Mars to get to you fall into the sun.

      There, FTFY

  19. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge
    Coat

    Can't they just breed astronauts that don't need so much gravity?

    (Mine's the one with the current edition of The Farmer's Almanac in the pocket.)

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Can't they just breed astronauts that don't need so much gravity?

      They tried that on a small island near Borneo about 25,000 years ago. Sadly, they all died out.

      Hobbitses. Hates them we does.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't be worse than sitting in the average office chair can it?

  21. TheOtherMe
    Childcatcher

    Generational change

    This is only an issue for the original generation of colonists leaving earth - subsequent generations will grow and develop in a lower gravity environment their whole lives...

  22. el rekrab
    FAIL

    And blindness

    There was some published information some time back about eye damage as well due to conditions being equivalent to glaucoma.

    As long as there are wheelchairs for the guide dogs and all of the panels have braille, we should be able to colonise the red planet and leave all of our problems behind...oh. Wait. We'd be there and we'd be in the same boat.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Suspenders

    Extra strong suspenders. Just leave some space for the "stuff" so as not to squeeze the hell out of it. Squeeze that lumbar though... Another one for the US patent office?

  24. Andy00ff00

    Wusses

    These astronauts are feeble. They should try sitting at a desk for 8+ hours/day

  25. HamsterNet

    Solution

    The only real solution is that the EM type drives can be ramped up to generate a constant 1g of thrust. Thus spend half the journey accelerating towards Mars and then flip and break at 1g for the other half.

    Would take 1d 21h 13m to get to Mars like this.

  26. Max Jalil

    Surely the low tech answer is

    a strong pair of braces?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    low gravity environment leads to reduced sagging for voluminous jubs.

    so it's not all bad news.

    1. DanceMan
      Joke

      Re: low gravity environment leads to reduced sagging

      Might also work for aging members (pun intended) of the male species.

  28. You aint sin me, roit
    Happy

    As they won't be coming back in any case...

    A bit of zero g spine lengthening will just be pre-mutation in preparation for living at low g on Mars :)

    Meanwhile... as we work on the technology required to allow for return trips we can also work on exo-skeletons and cybernetics.

    After all, if there's one thing science fiction teaches us it's that we will need an army of droids to keep the revolting Martian colonists in their place...

  29. Duffy Moon
    Alien

    Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

    Most commenters seem to want to find expensive solutions involving complex physics. I suggest that biochemistry is the key. One 'simply' needs to block the catabolic processes breaking down muscle/bone.

    Such research not only benefits human space exploration, but also the elderly and anyone with a muscle-wasting disease or who are immobile for long periods.

    1. Chemist

      Re: Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

      "One needs to block the catabolic processes breaking down muscle/bone."

      Good luck with that !

      I know that you put it as 'simply' however having spent a modest amount of my life working in the area of osteoporosis I can say that it's horribly complicated. For example, under normal conditions bone is constantly re-worked by specialized cells working in series to attach to bone, dissolve calcium salts by pumping in acid, cleave collagen fibers with enzymes and then the whole process ireversed to lay down new collagen and fresh calcium salts. My guess at the time I worked in this area was that it looked like constant repairs to remove micro-damage before it became serious and therefore stopping this process could well lead to weak bones - many people were trying to stop it as it was thought by some that osteoporosis might well be a result of the 'dissolving' process predominating over the replacement.

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