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Similarities between the confinement due to Coronavirus and space travel

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 31 mar 2020, 6:35 por Plataforma Sites Dgac   [ actualizado el 8 sept 2020, 10:01 ]
Quarantine and confinement are part of the similarities between the Coronavirus pandemic and protracted trips to outer space.
The crew of the STS-131 mission at the International Space Station, on April 14, 2010 (NASA).

NASA astronaut Anne McClain is assisted to get out of the space capsule on her return to Earth after a protracted period in space. The microgravity environment leads to the astronauts losing their muscular mass and strength and they have to recover them after returning to Earth (Reuters).
Millions of people “endure” quarantine. This situation has created environmental and psychological pressures at reduced spaces in apartments and houses.

When several people live together in small spaces it can create frustrations, tensions or conflicts that have to be faced with knowledge, will, generosity, temperance, discipline, an activities program and order.

For decades, teams of the United States, former Soviet Union, Japan, Europe, India and China’s space agencies have studied the human behavior in small spaces to deal with space travel due to the small size of the spacecraft.


The isolation situation at home has led to plan the day to day labors, to decide who will wash, who will cook, who will clean, who will buy the groceries, the setting up of particular spaces and even the commitment to working hours for people working remotely.

Except for certain and important differences, the outer space missions include months of training and planning of domestic labors, scientific work, systems maintenance and navigation, among others, that must be observed every day and in a strict way.

For that, the mission support teams work tirelessly planning and taking care of all the details, from the time to get up in the morning, taking breaks, working and even sleeping.

Since the seventies, scientists and astronauts investigate and feel the effects produced by the lack of gravity and the risks of living in confined spaces in small capsules and space stations.

Regarding that, Russian cosmonaut Valery Poliyakov has a lot of experience because he traveled to the MIR space station on board of Soyuz TM18 on January 8, 1994, only to land back on Earth on Soyuz TM20 on March 22, 1995, after 437 days, 17 hours, 58 minutes and 16 seconds.
Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka also knows a lot about living in small spaces, because he has the absolute record after remaining in the space for 879 days living in the old MIR space station and in the International Space Station.

Confinement’s risks

The United States of America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) identified five important risks and challenges for space exploration, among them the crews’ isolation and confinement.

It’s known that the astronauts selected for those trips have to go through rigorous examinations and tests, and also a strong training in which they learn to overcome behavior and tolerance problems, and to identify signals of aggressive or risky behaviors.

Sleep disorders, work overload and diseases in a small space can also put a mission at risk —for instance, a Mars mission— and even the lives of the crew members.

Quarantine is also a common factor in the pandemic that is affecting Earth right now and space exploration. It’s mandatory that two weeks before each mission, the astronauts have to go into quarantine to avoid carrying diseases to space. And when they visit other worlds, that quarantine will be also mandatory when they return to the Earth’s surface.


Besides that, there’s the danger of space radiation, which can kill a person.

The exposure to radiation increases the risk of cancer, it damages the central nervous system, it can alter the cognitive function, reduce the motor function and provoke changes of behavior.

To reduce that risk, deep space vehicles will have a significant protecting shield, dosimetry and alerts. There’s also investigations underway on medical countermeasures, such as pharmaceutical products, to help humans to defend ourselves against radiation.
Distance and gravity

The third danger, and maybe the most noticeable, is simply the distance. For instance, Mars is, on average, at 225 million kilometers from the Earth. Instead of a three day Moon trip, on a trip to Mars astronauts would abandon our planet for approximately three years.

If anyone gets ill or there’s an emergency during that trip, the astronauts can’t turn around and come back to Earth in just a few hours. Once that the engines of a spacecraft bound to Mars are turned on, there’s no coming back, nor restocking.

Planning and self-sufficiency —that also applies to the quarantine that we currently endure— are also key for a successful space mission.

For instance, on Mars the astronauts would have to live and work in 3/8 of the Earth’s gravitational pull for up to two years.

They could hardly be able to take a walk in the Martian landscape without exposing themselves to sandstorms or the lack of oxygen.

And in the trip to Mars and back they would experience weightlessness, only to feel Earth’s gravity again, with their muscles, bones and cardiovascular system affected for at least three years.

Hostile environment

The crews wouldn’t be able to deeply breath the spring morning’s fresh air, or watch a sunrise or sunset on the horizon or a blue sky with clouds.

Their horizon would be the endless and dark space. The light they will have will be a mixture of artificial and solar light. They wouldn’t be able to hear the wind nor the rain, unless the onboard computers can recreate them from time to time.

The microorganisms that naturally live in a person and that we carry with us are more easily transferred in closed environments. Hence the permanent medical controls of urine and blood, that could reveal valuable information on possible stressing factors.

For all that, confinement and quarantine represent similarities between life during a pandemic on Earth and space travel.