by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 94 (November/December 2006)
Photograph courtesy of Elan Sun Star
As I write this, scientists are continuing a long series of experiments aboard the International Space Station, studying the effects of essentially Zero gravity on living organisms, including human beings. Yahoo news story, “Space Station Science Overdrive.”
Also as I write this, the question of funding the development of space, whether privately or through public instrumentality, seems almost as acute as before, as our misadventures in Iraq eat away at all other matters in our society which need funding.
I think I know a very strong and obvious way to solve the funding problem, stronger even than the one I proposed and propose in my article, “Funding the Development of Space.”
A preliminary experiment which will win some support:
Create a one-third-gee to one-quarter-gee environment in near space that can be used as a habitat for the duration of the experiment.
The means to do this? — Put up a habitat large enough and well-appointed enough to stay in comfortably for the duration of the experiment. This habitat should be tethered to a counterweight, probably a used-up fuel tank, and given lateral momentum, to revolve around a common center of the tether with that counterweight. (It won’t be necessary to rotate a whole space station or part of the present a-building International Space Station. Building a whole rotating “wheel” space station is beyond our present means, and it won’t be necessary for the experiments.) Centrifugal force, exerted on the habitat at the end of the tether like a yoyo on the end of a string, will then, of course, parallel most of the effects of gravity.
For greater control and greater stability: — instead of a single cable tethering between the habitat and its counterweight, extend three or four booms to either side of both habitat and counterweight and attach a system of tethers to each of these.
Presently, for safety’s sake, an extra Soyuz spaceship is maintained at the present International Space Station in event of an emergency requiring evacuation of the station. That one, or for improved safety margin a spare such vehicle, could be maintained nearby to serve as the long-term experimental partial-gravity habitat or as part of one.
The following results will stem from a few months’ or a year’s experiment in using the above to create and sustain a one-third-gravity-like environment in space:
- Loss of calcium and other key nutrients will be very much less than with the near-zero-gee environments now maintained in space and in the present station. With a program of appropriate exercises even less rigorous than those now used on the station, the rate of attrition will be almost zero.
- It will become quietly apparent that normal human lifespans can be comfortably extended ten to fifty years longer in a low-gee environment, an effect which I don’t think will be found in a zero-gee environment.
- If this experiment is visibly done (as “research toward biological effects of long-term missions”) and without fanfare about the longevity issue, more support for development of at least the circum-Terra and lunar-settlement portions of the space program will well up in greater quantity than almost anyone will know what to do with. In other words, suddenly, these aspects of the space program will be rapidly and expansively boosted by many elderly CEOs and other holders-of-the-wealth who would like to live longer.
The experiment, if my first two predictions above are borne out (which they will be), will win near-instant allegiance from many among the wealthy who would like to live comfortably for substantially more years, in an O’Neill-type large-scale habitat, or in settlements on the moon, which already is a natural low-gee environment.
Some, including many who are among the most capable human beings around, would like to perform some useful service or services in such a setting. Some of us, including many who have dreamed of space from long before Sputnik, could and would perform valuable continued service, both to the space program itself and generally, during those extended years.
This prospect would no doubt be controversial. There are many who feel — or at least would argue — against the very idea of extending the human lifespan, for a variety of reasons. There would be some concern, just as there has been with space tourism, that wealth should not be the sole criterion for someone to experience directly, instead of indirectly, the benefits of space and space development.
If possible, advance the science for a while without publicizing this aspect of the prospective results. But once the choices become more evident, support will begin finding its way to the space program and in quantities and certainties never seen there before.
Humanity needs to rapidly develop space, more urgently — some might say more desperately — than hardly anyone realizes. For most of the forty years since John Kennedy got us to the moon, our program of space development has languished for lack of support and funding, and several times has almost gone extinct. This one little experiment, this ONE experiment, would open the coffers and ensure great and continuing support, private and public, for space development for decades to come.
Thought question: — besides aging, what are all the various diseases and health conditions which can be better treated or even cured when the body is away from the stress of full gravity, at one-quarter or one-third gee?
Related Space Science Reading
- Space Launch — Inexpensive, safe and gentle launch track preserves material resources, spares the ozone layer.
- Coil — Electromagnets to deflect space radiation from astronauts.
- Funding the Development of Space — Two major, obvious proposals, including lease-bonds for Martian acreage.
- One Destiny, or Many? (Winsights, No. 60, June 2002)