The challenges of making the trip to Mars are many and scientists have been working for several years to prepare plans and technology to reduce the negative impact on astronauts. Much of the research is done on Earth, but the International Space Station is also one of the best places to experiment because of its location outside the Earth's atmosphere, and this week ESA – the European Space Agency, has released some of the work being done on Earth. be done to prepare humans on a trip to the red planet.
While preparing the second ExoMars mission, ESA investigates how the astronauts' biological clock can be affected on a trip to Mars outside the 24-hour cycle of light and darkness we are accustomed to on Earth. Space Station astronauts already try out 16 sunrises and sunsets each day, and to see how long-duration spaceflight affects people, NASA's astronaut Anne McClain on a mission at the ISS used two sensors – one on the forehead and another in the chest – for 36 hours as part of the experiment on circadian rhythms.
This week, for the fifth and last time during their mission, the astronaut's body temperature and melatonin levels have been monitored, and the results will now be compared to those obtained on Earth before and after the mission on the Space Station. ESA notes that results, and strategies for adapting – or not – to new rhythms could help to avoid sleep disturbances of people on Earth who live outside the natural cycle, staying up late or working night shifts.
The passage of time may also be a problem for a trip to Mars, which will last for more than 500 days, because recent research shows that astronauts underestimate time in orbit and have a changed perception of distance in space.
NASA astronaut David Saint-Jacques and NASA's Anne McClain and Nick Hague have evaluated how long a visual target appears on a laptop screen and their reaction times to these warnings are recorded to process speed and attention. This experience was part of Time, a relevant research because misperception of time can cause delayed reactions and create risks to crew safety.
NASA has also made several similar experiments with the brothers, Kelly, two twins, evaluating the effects on Scott, who was on the Space Station for a year, and Mark, who stayed on Earth.
Aging, Radiation and Bacteria
It has been proven that an interplanetary mission to Mars will see astronauts grow older, but the International Space Station has a unique environment to reproduce the effects of aging and study the oxidative impact of travel.
European research Nano Antioxidants seeks innovative antioxidants to stimulate cells and prevent muscle loss. Live cells and ceramic particles were placed in the Kubik incubator for six days housed in the ESA Columbus module. Half of the samples were kept close to zero gravity, while the remaining samples were exposed to the same gravity as the Earth.
The cells are now frozen at -80 ° C and await return to Earth, scheduled for June 3 aboard the SpaceX Dragon rocket. The results of this research may help develop new supplements to support astronauts on missions to Mars.
Among the experiments being carried out is also radiation protection, which is a serious concern because as humans leave the protective shield of the Earth's atmosphere, space radiation rises up to 15 times in relation to that on the surface of the Earth. planet.
The 3D-Dose has 11 radiation detectors attached to the walls of Columbus that record how much radiation is transmitted that help create a complete picture of the space radiation inside the Station and allow you to perceive the space radiation and how it penetrates the walls of the International Space Station. The latest data downlink on May 21 marked seven years of continuous measurements in space with this experiment, and are now being evaluated.
There is still ongoing research into bacteria and fungi that could be a threat to human health and equipment, but researchers are using Matiss-2 to figure out how to avoid such contamination. Scientists will examine the materials to see how bacteria have formed biofilms that protect them from cleaning agents and also help them adhere to surfaces. This week, David Saint-Jacques packed the seventh sample holder with antimicrobial surfaces to be sent back to Earth for analysis.
Rebuilding the history of the red planet
ESA has been studying Mars for more than 15 years with Mars Express, which was launched on June 2, 2003. The spacecraft has photographed almost the entire surface of the planet to date and continues to send a large amount of scientific data, including evidence of its more humid past. And where there was water, there may have been life.
Sending samples to Earth is one of the goals set by ESA, which also wants to land on the planet, traverse the surface and drill the underground soil for evidence of life. "The next logical step is to bring samples back to Earth, to provide access to Mars for scientists around the world, and to better prepare for future human exploration of the planet," the European agency explains.
NASA already has its next Mars mission well defined and Mars 2020 departs in July 2020 and is due to land on the Red Planet in February 2021. And whoever wants it can enter their name on a chip that will be transported with the spacecraft.