Low-G environmental tests

I’m reading a book on space colonization.  I’ve been making this point for many years now and this author mentions it but then sort of goes on with business as usual. 

The issue is the more we learn about living under weightless conditions, the more unhealthy it appears. It is just not responsible policy to plan missions to other planets under zero G. We know a fair amount about 1-G living and now quite a bit about 0-G living.  We know nothing whatever, however, about extended living and working under a fractional G.  We don’t have any idea whether we can stay healthy for months or years under lunar gravitation for instance. We don’t know if people can reproduce on Mars. If we can’t survive at least Martian gravity of about 37% earth normal, our long-term presence in space will be in rotating habitats orbiting various planetary bodies or the sun itself. Still people keep clamoring to go to Mars and politicians trumpet about going to the moon to stay!

My purpose here isn’t to scuttle human space exploration but we’re missing a very important step. We should be doing a long-term centrifugal experiment in near earth orbit to test first our ability to live under 1/6th G. Then it would probably be a good idea to try out Martian gravity. When this gets mentioned, people start talking about large rotating wheels or toroids, but all we need are two small, comfy habitats spinning about a common center, probably on a 300 meter tether.

A habitat vaguely football shaped seventeen feet in diameter and maybe twenty-four long would allow for two levels, providing quite a bit of living room for perhaps three persons.  Since there’d be two of them we could have six people all told.  Leave them up in orbit for a year and do exhaustive in-mission medical tests. Give them something cool to do like fabbing miniature devices designed for moon operations.

If it turns out that people do okay with a little bit of gravity then we can be confident we can make a lunar base work. We can be sure of being able to build a Martian colony someday.  If Lunar gravity hurts us nearly as much as living in free fall, then we need to seriously reexamine our goals in space.  One avenue might be genetic research to see if mammalian life can be adjusted to deal with low gravity.


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