Author: Daniel Pyne
One of the most thrilling adventures on the last morning of the WTMC & EHBC conferences turned out to be a little trip to space with Dr. James D Polk, CMO of the National Aeronautical & Space Administration, or as it’s more commonly known, NASA.
Asking the audience to give a show of hands of exactly how many attendees would like to go to space if they could afford it, clearly, this was a presentation topic that many had dreamt about. Polk received an even greater, more exuberant show of hands coupled with laughter when he added, “And by that same show of hands, how many of you are closet Star Trek fans?”
Accompanied by a comprehensive visual presentation detailing various historical space missions, as well as famous astronauts in-flight, Polk shared that indeed NASA is presently investing a great deal of time, effort, and money into the development of commercial space travel. The end goal? To enable commercial vendors to get into space. He was clear on one fact: “This is medical tourism, not space tourism – and you’ll see that the two are intersecting.”
And with that pronouncement, Polk began to list a few realities and challenges of such a feat, along with a long list of physiological changes that occur in the human body when interfacing with the profound atmospheric changes found in space. Classifying it simply as, “The Final Frontier”, Polk reported on the wealth of knowledge scientists now have about the human genome and space physiologically, citing Scott Kelly’s year-long mission as an example. After spending 340 days on the International Space Station, he returned with severe muscle soreness, skin soreness, and even more profound, he gained an inch and a half in height due to a temporary lengthening of his spine. He eventually returned to his original height.
Other changes, such as bone loss, vision changes resulting from pressure changes in the brain and spinal fluid due to weightlessness, and even risks associated with Space Radiation, or as Polk refers to it, “Cosmic Galactic Radiation that can cause genetic changes in the body”, are all issues that must be taken into consideration when proposing extended space travel. Polk reported that those contemplating space travel in the future will require a dedicated aerospace medical expert trained in space physiology to prepare them for such an undertaking. He made reference to the extensive research that took place before aviation became commercialized, and interjected that because space is that much further, research will take that much longer.
Real-life examples of just how close we are to propelling individuals into space are the companies like Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. New Shepard consists of a rocket and capsule that are both reusable and presently being developed to fly individuals to and from space. According to Polk, “It will be capable of taking commercial passengers to orbit. That rocket can achieve sub-orbital flying and paying customers will one day go up in that rocket.” Another example he gave in the presentation was Virgin Galactic (owned by Sir Richard Branson) which is aggressively pursuing suborbital spacecraft for tourism.
In addition to the more exciting developments above that are rapidly leading us to commercial space travel in the future, Polk reminded the audience that we benefit in numerous other ways here on Earth through the space program. “How many people of you here bought gas today? The fact that a beam went up to that satellite up in space telling you that you’d been approved to buy gas was available because of the space program.”
Additionally, Polk added that because of our ability to utilize increased technology due to the space program we are probably only seven years away from developing a MRSA vaccine.
We are excited to see what other advances they come up with soon!