Sports Medicine Weekly : Are You Fit Enough For Mars ?

SpaceSapce fit

Are You Fit Enough For Mars ?

There has been a renewed interest in space and astronomy. The US government wants to create a space force, the program Cosmos is getting a sequel, and the discovery of exoplanets has cause excitement. It may be centuries before actual humans can travel between galaxies. The first step to that task is to master travelling between planets in the Solar System. Mars is a great candidate for future space exploration with astronauts. While the Mars Pathfinder captured impressive images, seeing something for yourself  has a greater impact. Outer Space is a real mystery. It is uncharted territory that humanity has yet to completely map. Navigation is not the only obstacle. The human body was adapted to the conditions of Earth. Microgravity can have certain effects on the organ systems of the body. The most notable is the muscular and skeletal system. Long spaceflights could decrease physical fitness. The longer it is, the more the musculoskeletal system could be at risk. Certain jobs like this demand a measurable level of fitness. There is an amount of exercise required to prevent such loss of muscle and bone. Mars has a more harsh environment compared to the Moon. Travelling to Mars would be more strenuous in comparison. Making it suitable for colonization would be a long term project. Kansas State University produced a study to determine the level of fitness required for a planetary mission to Mars. It also simulated performance with in flight equipment. It is likely that a successful mission to Mars can be done, but its is important to have detailed understanding of the planet.

           Mars is a terrestrial planet thought to be at one time similar to our own. The atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide (95.7% ), nitrogen (2.7%) and argon (1.6%).  The surface gravity of Mars is 0.38  g . The environment is a place volcanoes, immense canyons, and frozen ice caps. The surface temperature ranges from -125 to 25  degrees Celsius. Mars only has two moons which include Phobos and Deimos . Some have speculated that these are captured asteroids. The planet may appear to be a dry desert wasteland, but there are some dangers to potential space explorers.  Ultraviolet radiation levels could be harmful to human health. Mars does have seasons due to its tilted axis. The axial tilt of the planet comes to a total of 25.19 degrees. Ice caps provide proof of seasonal change, which grow in the winter and shrink in the summer. Dust storms can be a peril to any astronaut on Mars. The air is thin, but dense enough to allow for weather. A combination of high winds enables the red sands to be exacerbated causing sand storms.

A day on Mars is equivalent to 1.03 days on Earth.
Muscle atrophy if they are not exercised. This will be an issue in a microgravity environment.
Aerobic capacity is one element of physical fitness.
Even a muscular person could experience a loss of mass in Outer Space.

The only environment on Earth that comes close to a Mars like setting is our deserts. However, the sandstorms on Earth are no where as extreme. Conditions are not exactly the best for human habitation. A different type of space suit would also be required. Going onto the Martian surface would require a pressurized suit equipped with oxygen supply. Otherwise the low atmospheric pressure could cause the fluids in the body to boil  to a dangerous temperature. There is no magnetic field, which means human explorers would be vulnerable to cosmic rays. Spending long periods of time on Mars could pose a serious health risk. One possible solution would be to have large shielded housing structures that would protect human life. This is only a small amount of information known about Mars.

         The goals of the experiment as stated from the abstract was to “determine values and ranges for key aerobic fitness variables that can individually map the level of success for planetary mission tasks performance for long-duration spaceflight, with the goal to develop a predictor-testing model that can be performed with in-flight equipment.” Part of the task is not only getting on to the surface of Mars, but how to ensure a safe journey. Reaching the planet could be just as physically demanding as colonizing it. There have been proposals of using the Moon as sort of a testing ground for possible terraforming. If humanity can successfully colonize the Moon, then it can be done with Mars. Astronauts need to be in the best health and physical condition to prepare for future missions. At the moment there is limitation in terms of funding and technology. Spacecraft will have to be more durable. Exercise equipment needs to be able to build large amounts of  physical fitness.

         The experiment selected 45 men and women who did hill climbing as well as a surface traverse task. These task were performed from low to moderate activity simulating a lunar and Mars like environment. The subjects moved supplies and set up communications towers. The point of this was to see a change in metabolic response. Aerobic fitness was described in terms of ventilatory threshold (VT), and critical power. Performance was determined by ” logistic regression and receiver operating characteristic curve analysis were used to determine the cutoff thresholds for each aerobic fitness parameter that accurately predicted task performance.” Both Cycling and rowing Vo2 peak were utilized in the experiment. It should be assumed that all the men and women used were at high fitness levels prior to the experiment. Otherwise, this could effect outcomes.  The results produced that   ventilatory  threshold and critical power were good indicators of determining who could complete mission tasks. This suggests what type of physical fitness test could be used for long term spaceflight or travel between planets. 

        The study concluded with this statement : ” In summary, we identified aerobic fitness thresholds below which task performance was impaired for both low- and moderate-intensity mission-critical tasks.” The study explains further that “In particular, cycling V˙O2peak, VT, and rowing CP could each be used to predict task failure.” Many physically demanding occupations have a fitness test to determine if a candidate is qualified for a job. This experiment has more than a test of qualification, rather how much stress the human body can take in a radically different environment. Humans evolved to live in places in which gravity effects their bodies. Space can change the human body possibly at the cellular and genetic level. The brain even may be effected during long spaceflights. A  lucid understanding of physical fitness, spaceflight’s impact on health, and other hazards must be established. More details and tests must be done to make a mission to Mars a success. What has been determined is that space travel requires a certain amount of physical fitness.


Sports Medicine Weekly : Are You Fit Enough For Mars ?

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