The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

By Claude A. Piantadosi | Go to book overview

18
The Gravity of Microgravity

On April 12, 1961, 27-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered his tiny Vostok spacecraft atop the massive R-7 booster and rocketed into Earth orbit in his legendary three-orbit, 108-minute flight. Meanwhile the Western medical establishment was in the midst of a debate about whether human beings could tolerate extended periods of near weightlessness. The dramatic physiological effects of microgravity are multifaceted, but over the short term they are tolerated remarkably well by the human body. Prolonged weightlessness does not seem to impose a clearly identifiable limitation to survival, but it has been the source of concern in at least six areas of human biology: space sickness, cardiovascular function, lung function, immune function, loss of bone and muscle mass, and interactions with radiation.

A great deal of effort has been devoted to studying the effects and mechanisms of microgravity, but nearly half a century into the Space Age, debate continues about the mechanisms for some of them and about how important they will be in future missions of long duration (Fitts et al., 2000). To date the longest space mission has been the 437-day epic of Valeri Polyakov, the Russian physician– cosmonaut aboard the MIR station in 1994 and 1995. Indeed, as of 2002 only sixteen people had spent a total of more than one year in space (Fig. 18.1). However, such missions have provided evidence that certain effects of microgravity have more important implications than do others for long-duration spaceflight.

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The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1: The Human Environment 1
  • 2: Survival and Adaptation 10
  • 3: Cross-Acclimation 21
  • 4: Food for Thought 29
  • 5: Water and Salt 41
  • 6: Water That Makes Men Mad 54
  • 7: Tolerance to Heat 63
  • 8: Endless Oceans of Sand 78
  • 9: Hypothermia 89
  • 10: Life and Death on the Crystal Desert 99
  • 11: Survival in Cold Water 119
  • 12: Air as Good as We Deserve 129
  • 13: Bends and Rapture of the Deep 140
  • 14: Sunken Submarines 152
  • 15: Climbing Higher 164
  • 16: Into the Wild Blue Yonder 181
  • 17: G Whiz 193
  • 18: The Gravity of Microgravity 203
  • 19: Weapons of Mass Destruction 212
  • 20: Human Prospects for Colonizing Space 227
  • Bibliography and Supplemental Reading 247
  • Index 255
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