Tag Archives: interplanetary flight

The Lie that is Orion

Several weeks ago NASA put out one of its periodic press releases touting the wonders of the engineering the agency is doing to prepare for its future missions to Mars. In this case the press release described a new exercise device, dubbed ROCKY (for Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo), for use in the Orion capsule.

“ROCKY is an ultra-compact, lightweight exercise device that meets the exercise and medical requirements that we have for Orion missions,” said Gail Perusek, deputy project manager for NASA’s Human Research Program’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project. “The International Space Station’s exercise devices are effective but are too big for Orion, so we had to find a way to make exercising in Orion feasible.

As is their habit these days in their effort to drum up support for funding for SLS and Orion, the press release was filled with phrases and statements that implied or claimed that Orion was going to be the spacecraft that Americans will use to explore the solar system.

…engineers across NASA and industry are working to build the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket that will venture to deep space for the first time together…

…Over the next several years, NASA’s Human Research Program will be refining the device to optimize it not only for near-term Orion missions with crew, but for potential uses on future long-duration missions in Orion…

These are only two examples. I have clipped them because both were very carefully phrased to allow NASA deniablity should anyone question these claims. For example, in the first quote they qualify “deep space” as specifically the 2018 unmanned lunar test flight. And the second quote is qualified as referring to missions to lunar space. Nonetheless, the implied intent of this wording is to sell Orion as America’s interplanetary spaceship, destined to take us to the stars!

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at NASA’s own Orion webpages, starting with the very first words on their Orion Overivew page.
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Over-the-counter osteoporosis drug appears to keep astronauts from losing bone density on long space flights

Big news: New research on ISS now shows that the standard over-the-counter osteoporosis drugs used by millions on Earth appears to keep astronauts from losing bone density during long space flights.

Beginning in 2009, the group administered the drug to five long-stay astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), including Koichi Wakata, 48, and Soichi Noguchi, 46. The five took the drug — an over-the-counter bisphosphonate used to treat osteoporosis — once a week starting three weeks before they lifted off until they returned to Earth. The researchers then monitored the astronauts’ bone mass over time and compared the results to those for 14 astronauts that had never taken the drug.

The results showed that the 14 who had never taken the drug had average bone density loss of 7 percent in the femur, and 5 percent in the hip bone. The five astronauts on bisphosphonate, however, only had average bone density loss in the femur of 1 percent, and even a 3 percent increase in the hip bone. Calcium levels in their urine, which rise the more bone mass is lost, were also very low.

If these results hold up, they might very well solve one of the biggest challenges faced by any interplanetary traveler. Up until now, bone loss during long weightless missions never seemed to average less than 0.5 percent per month. After spending three years going to and from Mars, an astronaut could thus lose about almost 20 percent of their bone mass in their weight-bearing bones, and would probably be unable to return to Earth.

Thus, a mission to Mars seemed impossible, unless we could build a ship with some form of artificial gravity, an engineering challenge we don’t yet have the capability to achieve.

If these already tested drugs can eliminate this problem, then the solar system is finally open to us all. All that has to happen now is to do some one to two year manned missions on ISS to test the drugs effectiveness for these long periods of weightlessness.

Sailing to Mars

With the end of the Mar500 simulated mission this coming Friday, the Russians are now proposing an eighteen month simulated Mars mission on board the International Space Station.

The Russians have been pushing to do this on ISS for years. Unfortunately, NASA has always resisted.

Yet, as I wrote in Leaving Earth, we will never be able to send humans to any other planets until we have flown at least one simulated mission, in zero gravity in Earth orbit, beforehand. Wernher von Braun pointed out this reality out back in the 1950s, and that reality has not changed in the ensuing half century. Not only will such a mission tell us a great deal about the medical issues of living in weightlessness for years at a time — issues that are far from trivial — it will give us the opportunity to find out the engineering problems of building a vessel capable of keeping humans alive during interplanetary flight, far from Earth.
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