NASA TO “CHILL” ASTRONAUTS
NASA needs a refresher course in being human. Its latest idea is just too “cold”.
One of NASA’s contractors, Spaceworks Engineering, has proposed turning Astronauts into popsicles. The plan would keep Astronauts on a Mars mission “on ice” – hypothermia – to conserve supplies and to shrink the size of the spaceship. The unconscious astronauts would be fed intravenously and maintained by medical equipment. Like in sci fi movies, they would be in “hibernation”. Doctors have been doing similar stuff for heart attacks and head injuries. Believe it or not, it works well.
If it works for heart attacks, why not for astronauts?
First some background.
Up till now, “manned” space trips have consisted of stiff legging it around the moon or orbiting in space hardware like the space station. The planets were considered out of reach to humans.
MISTER ScienceAintSoBad never had a problem with the way things were. We’ve sent all kinds of “probes” to the planets. And we’ve explored the heck out of Mars while humans stayed mostly in earth orbit. There have been some deaths and injuries in our space program but we’ve done a lot of science without many casualties. Now there’s a big push to get humans out to Mars to “fulfill our destiny”.
This isn’t because people are a better deal then robots .
It’s much more expensive and much riskier to send people. Radiation is intense out there -really intense. A space ship big enough to carry people and supplies and provide some radiation shielding for such a long trip would be hard to create. Sending humans on a long journey makes everything more complicated.
For a while, I wasn’t worried. Let them lobby Congress about getting humans to Mars, I thought. Let’s face it, Congress will never bite. What’s bad about the “frozen astronaut” idea is that, with the lower costs, Congress might actually fall for the idea.
DELUSIONS ABOUT HUMANS
Look, it is is true that doctors have been succesfully cooling people who might die otherwise. It’s risky but it’s worth it. It takes a while to recover from a heart attack, or a busted head. Slowing things down by cooling the patient gives the body a chance to catch up with the healing process.
Astronauts aren’t dying though. The only thing wrong with their heads is that they take crazy risks. They’re in great shape. Keeping them chilled, asleep, and on intravenous lines for that long is dangerous. All kinds of bad things can happen to their hearts, their lungs, their circulatory systems, etc. Induced hypothermia is okay in a medical crisis. But it is not okay in the name of smaller, cheaper space ships.
We’ve been getting good science done on Mars with our rovers. And Robots will only get better – if we don’t use up too much robot money tossing men and women at the problem.
An analysis of the space shuttle indicated that 99 out a hundred flights would succeed. The one in a hundred that would fail? Believe me. You don’t want to know!
The shuttle was just a space taxi. It was a complicated mess but making a shuttle is nothing compared to making a Mars mission. It’s too early to say what the “risk analysis” would be for a Mars mission but there’s nothing about traveling a zillion miles through intense radiation, relying on fragile systems to protect you for months and maybe years, that sounds safe. Nobody has explained how we would safely reduce levels of radiation to anything near acceptable. And do you know a bookie who would like the odds for surviving the trip and landing safely?
If they do get there, they will have absorbed way too many “rads”. They would still look like astronauts but inside that space gear would be people who were actually nasty medical experiments plunging into the abyss.
Irresponsible? You said it!
I’m not picking on NASA. Well – maybe I am – but, mainly, I’m just pointing out that we should resist the irrational urge to “head for the stars”. It would be cool to see people in space suits up there (if they weren’t wretching and dying, of course) but robots are safer, cheaper, and better.
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The drawing is mine.