What the first American astronauts taught us about living in space

What the first American astronauts taught us about living in space
Less than a year after its birth, NASA announced Project Mercury, the first American attempt to send a person to space. Project Mercury proved that humans could live and work in space, paving the way for all future human exploration. This cutaway drawing of the Mercury capsule was used by the Space Task Group at the first NASA inspection, on Oct. 24, 1959. Credit: Courtesy of NASA.

NASA's Project Mercury was the United States' first human-in-space program. Between 1961 and 1963, six astronauts carried out successful one-person spaceflights that offered physicians and scientists the first opportunity to observe the effects of living in space on the human body.

"Spaceflight data is hard to come by; we should remember what's already been done, so we can make the most of new opportunities to do human research in ," said corresponding author Dr. Virginia Wotring, associate professor of the Center for Space Medicine and pharmacology and chemical biology at Baylor College of Medicine.

The Project Mercury astronauts were military test pilots on active duty who volunteered for these missions. They were between 35 and 40 years of age at the time of the flight, and, because room was limited inside the space capsule, they had to be no taller than 5 feet 11 inches.

Depending on the mission, the flights were either in a suborbital or in a low-orbit path and lasted between 15 minutes and 34 hours. During the flights, the astronauts wore a 20-pound spacesuit designed to back up the capsule's support system and remained restrained by a harness in a semi-supine position while performing their tasks. Common clinical measures, such as heart rate, body temperature and breathing rate, were taken to monitor their medical condition. At the time, scientists and physicians knew little about the human tolerance to a sustained weightless environment, only what ground simulations - 'dress rehearsals' - would predict. These first flights provided some answers to what to expect during short-term space flights.

"The Mercury missions taught us that human beings could function in the space environments for more than a day. Other findings were that and the weight loss on early space flight missions related more to time spent in a space suit, as opposed to time spent in weightlessness," said Wotring, who also is chief scientist and deputy director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health. "Also, that the 'dress rehearsals' were excellent predictors of what would be seen later in space."

We hope that these and other findings will influence the design of space suits and that ground simulations and 'rehearsals' will be given the attention they deserve," she said.

The Project Mercury astronaut data can be of interest to operators of future commercial space flights as the short duration of the Mercury missions is similar to that of planned future tourist spaceflight opportunities.

"When Dr. William R. Carpentier at NASA Johnson Space Center offered the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor the opportunity to collaborate on this publication, we felt privileged to work with him," Wotring said. "This paper is our effort to make available all the medical data collected in those early days of crewed space so that future researchers can find it and benefit from it."

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More information: William R. Carpentier et al, Biomedical findings from NASA's Project Mercury: a case series, npj Microgravity (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41526-018-0040-5
Citation: What the first American astronauts taught us about living in space (2018, March 27) retrieved 16 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-03-american-astronauts-taught-space.html
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Mar 27, 2018
Instead of attempting to live in space, we should have 10-mile high and 5-mile wide Solar Panels over Seas, that would retract or fall flat before harsh wind approach them !

Mar 27, 2018
"Instead of attempting to live in space, we should have 10-mile high and 5-mile wide Solar Panels over Seas, that would retract or fall flat before harsh wind approach them !"

Sure, but those would also have to become quickly erect during good times. That's just too inviting for makers of NSFW jokes. IF you know what I mean...

Mar 28, 2018
Okay bettingexistence, what would be the costs to build and launch those ridiculous Papier-mâché floats? The source funding, budget, logistics?

For what purpose?

Do you have any comprehension of the atmospheric energies, such as wind-speed/shear and turbulence, at those altitudes?

Solar-energy collectors?
Okay, let us =assume= that you get one up there and collecting.

Now what? You going to run an extension cord from ten miles up? Several miles deep too the ocean bottom? Then hundreds of miles to the nearest coast? For somebody to use to charge their gameboy?

What is going to hold this rubegoldberg gimmick in place? So that it doesn't interfere with air traffic? Or drift into a mountain?

Or in range of a trigger-happy air/space defense unit.

How about the shadow effect? You would be starving the photo-collective organisms of the ocean surface. Causing the collapse of the food-chain the micro-goop sustains.

Mar 28, 2018
Not mentioned: We 'suddenly discovered' that people had to piss in space. Such is how .......... "Whizzer" White got his nickname. Had to go and there was no friendly local Gulf Station nearby selling Space Tea and Orbit burgers..OR ..had a place to go 'tee-tee-poo-poo. Soooo, Whizzer was told by the ground cuntrollers to pee in his suit.

Mar 28, 2018
When people complain about the waste of tax money for the space program? Just remind them that was what compelled the crash development of the adult diapers and pee-pads the critics are wearing!

On our vacations, my wife and I would travel a couple of states to visit her grandmother in a home for the elderly.

The stench was a chronic bother. Until one visit, we noticed that the stench was was no longer 'visible'. The US Space Program repaying the public's investment, with interest.

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