Space: a new frontier?

Arda – Year 12 Student

Editor’s Note: Year 12 student Arda writes here for the Humanities Journal about the practical challenges that humans would face were they to explore a more permanent residence in space. Drawing on the day-to-day challenges already faced by astronauts on shorter space flights and longer-term stays on the International Space Station, Arda argues that we would have a lot of training and preparation to do prior to moving home. CPD

With over 7.5 billion humans on Earth, there will inevitably come a time when our entire race is in jeopardy. The world we know will be uninhabitable and eventually, life on this planet will cease to exist.

 Perhaps the only viable will be to live in small capsules, drifting away in the infinite vacuum of space until we reach a new world. Some believe this to be Mars, others conclude that space ships will be our safe haven for the rest of eternity; but among this uncertain ambiguity, one thing is clearly established: life will never be the same.

Only a handful of individuals have experienced life outside our atmosphere. With voyages that last as long as 300 days, with astronauts confined in a metal container, these extraordinary humans learn to adapt to a lifestyle far detached from that which we know upon planet Earth. For every one hour of spacewalking, astronauts spend an excruciating seven in the water. This statistic is only one of many that goes to emphasise the true severity of their training programme, shedding a harsh light upon the fact that a new routine of life will be the only viable way to thrive in space. As a widely inexperienced population, our only solution to avoid catastrophe is to learn and prepare as astronauts do, ensuring our training is ample to equip us for the challenges of outer space.

During a usual day for an astronaut, each member is woken by an alarm, interrupting the common dreams of weightlessness and an ethereal world that most space voyager’s experience. Their position aboard a ship where they rest is one of the most fundamental aspects of space life – somewhere in line with a ventilator fan. The reasoning behind such a simple yet pivotal action is because warm air does not rise in space as it does on Earth, so each person is at risk of waking up to be surrounded by a bubble of their own exhaled carbon dioxide, resulting in oxygen starvation, followed by a severe headache and desperation for air. Many astronauts have expressed how grievous their night’s sleep can be, with the constant sounds of fans and air filters drifting around past their skull. If one is not accustomed to such unbearable noises, earplugs are a common resolution amongst the crew; and to put this into context for the greater population of the human race, it has been compared to sleeping inside a colossal vacuum cleaner. For every 24 hours on the International Space Station, there are 16 sunsets and sunrises, so is it common for astronauts to be oblivious over their sleep cycle, and the patterns of sleep which they drift in and out of. For this reason, the crew operate using GMT time, meaning they usually have eight hours sleep at the end of each ‘day’. To resist the blinding sunlight that penetrates through the ship, blindfolds are also worn, ensuring an uninterrupted state of dormancy for an onerous day. 

After waking up from their disturbed sleep, the first of their three meals awaits them. We should realise how far space food has been revised and enhanced, from the purely freeze-dried refreshments to the now more adventurous ‘feasts’, but make no mistake: many more improvements are to come by the time we could be driven into space captivity. The liquids, mainly being drinks and soup, are conveniently served in small plastic bags with straws for the user’s comfort. On the other hand, solid dishes can be consumed with magnetic knives and forks so that the utensils don’t float away from the voyager. A delicacy aboard the International Space Station would tend to be Miso soup and Japanese rice, followed by the well-known astronaut ice cream coming with three different, exotic flavours: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Due to prolonged microgravity dulling the taste buds while living in a vacuum, spicy food is also common. As you may have noticed, the food that is consumed 220 miles above us is not significantly different to what we eat on a regular basis, and thus if the time comes for humanity to depart planet Earth and find a new home, it is questionable how many altercations would have to be made to our diets.

Just as many people on the ground work and have various jobs, astronauts are assigned tasks each day in order to achieve a fast, secure and safe voyage. These may include performing routine maintenance on equipment, supervising experiments, and preparation of common everyday activities. If such jobs are not done to a standard nearing that of perfection, the crew are at risk of having to severely ration supplies, with the loss of life being a concept that isn’t as far removed as we may perceive. Thus, it remains crucial for us to understand what each job entails and how we can receive the most effective training to ensure a pleasant journey in orbit. On Earth, humans consume an average of 0.9kg of liquid oxygen and 2.7kg of water, meaning the need to minimize such resources is vital. Aboard the ISS, there are numerous life support systems in place to recycle and re-use as much as possible; for example, the water in urine and the moisture in air are accumulated and either broken down by electrolysis to provide fresh oxygen, or purified and used again as drinking water. There are also carbon dioxide ‘scrubbers’ which chemically remove the harmful gas from the air that is breathed so that the crew are never at risk of air poisoning. Many of these mechanisms and constructions require human interaction, and so the jobs are delegated on expertise and competence prior to actually taking off, implying that when the time comes, humans will have to step up and prepare for their individual roles in space. Exercise is usually a common activity for astronauts as weightlessness causes the human body to lose bone and muscle. Equipment such as treadmills and bikes are used within the ISS ensuring the muscles remain appropriate and utile, while also curing a regular feeling known as the ‘space snuffles’ where body fluids which aren’t able to be held down by gravity compile in the head. Astronauts are required to attach themselves to the machines, as they would helplessly drift away as a result of their own efforts.

After a full day’s routine of eating, working, and exercising, it comes the time of defecating in the space toilets. Human waste is not recyclable, and so is collected, constricted, and reserved for disposal. Some groups of unlucky voyagers have experienced having to use emergency plastic bags when the power had been diminished aboard the ship, leading to a significant plummet in their morale. However, it is a fact that though the toilets have a frightening appearance towards them, they have undergone a number of colossal improvements on the sanitary aspects that earlier cosmonauts had to encounter. These eccentric toilets do not require water, but instead operate using a forceful fan and a suction hole which carries the faeces away. Astronauts are required to attach themselves to the seat of the toilet using spring-loaded restraining bars, otherwise they might encounter themselves a couple of feet away from the toilet mid-operation. It is expected that most people may find these machines extremely peculiar at first and should take some time to get used to them – furthermore, one must familiarize themselves with the discomforting fact that their bowels are also floating within the human body, along with the remaining organs while in space.

Leisure time before bed is most certainly a common pleasure aboard a spaceship; with a tremendous number of activities that can be done, there is never a dull moment for an astronaut. Many of these options are able to be accomplished just as they are done on Earth, implying that theoretically, when we have to exit our atmosphere permanently, recreation should be similar. Favourites include: watching films, reading books, talking with family, and playing games with one another. However, the underlying option that never fails to disappoint is one which us ground dwellers will never be able to observe – the view. When floating in space, astronauts have the honour of spectating the Earth rotate ever so slowly, or capture images of the stars that engulf around them, all in clear, high-definition.

One day, the time will come when humans will have to depart Earth and search for a permanent home. This will require living aboard a space ship, like an astronaut, for immense periods of time. It may happen with years of notice, or with almost immediate effect, and if we are not trained and prepared sufficiently, the lives of 8 billion humans will be at risk.

No one truly knows what our outcome will be, or how to instruct for such a mission, and so the fate of humanity will depend on everyone working together and coalescing.

Only the strongest survive, and in this case, we need everyone to be strong.

Arda V

References

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