9 thoughts on “Variable-Gravity Research”

  1. That’s really clever.

    I’m also glad someone’s talking about the lack of data on variable gravity health effects. I see lots of pie in the sky talk about settling Mars, the Moon, wherever, and no discussion in any of them about the fact that we don’t even know if it’s physiologically possible.

    I think the best use for one of these places, besides just putting an astronaut up there for a few months or years to see what happens, is to have multiple generation animal studies in a given variable g. Ultimately settling new worlds is a game of having kids there, and we need to know not just how well an adult can handle fractional g, but what the effects are on gestation and growth. If we had 3rd or 4th generation dogs coming out perfectly healthy I’d feel a lot better about our prospects.

    Because if gestation doesn’t work, each visit to Mars is just a visit and O’Neil colonies are really the only option.

  2. Brock,
    Fully agreed about that last part. I was going to mention that in my post, but ran out of time before I needed to get back to work. They’ve found that in zero-g mice I think can’t get pregnant. Apparently the phase where the fertilized egg attaches to the uterus wall doesn’t work in zero-g. As you say, the questions are:

    a) does having at least a little gravity solve that and if so, how much do you need?
    b) are there any other processes after that step that are also impacted negatively by reduced gravity, and what’s the cutoff point for those as well?

    The cool thing is that NASA has the opportunity to enable us getting answers to those questions in the near future.


  3. I love the spin-up, spin-down approach, although I’d like to see the numbers on the mass of the counterweight, the length of the tether, etc.
    Because if gestation doesn’t work, each visit to Mars is just a visit and O’Neil colonies are really the only option.

    I think there are lots of other options.

    To start with the least ambitious option: if people have to gestate on Earth itself (for whatever reason), they can spend the rest of their lives on Mars — not just visit. Unless you foresee a Mars that is completely cut off from Earth, that’s a pretty good option right there for a booming Martian economy, etc.

    But I bet there is a medical solution.

    Here’s a funny option: If people must (for whatever reason) be conceived, gestate, and be born on mars, they can gestate in centrifuges on Mars. This is where an artificial womb would be especially liberating. But lets say that’s not perfected yet. I wonder how big could you make an apartment on a centrifuge on Mars? Maybe wrap a train around a mountain? Ideally, women would only have to sleep there…

  4. The CAM too was meant to study the effects of variable gravity, including hypergravity, only on mice not men.

  5. If you’re on a low-gravity world and need more gravity, you could build a house on a turntable — like the Everingham rotating house, only much faster: http://www.everinghamrotatinghouse.com.au/

    The floor would have to be shaped like a parabolic bowl, and I suppose it would be supported on some kind of rails–perhaps maglev? The walls would also rise and curve oddly, gravity would vary within the structure, and if you throw anything the coriolis effect would be obvious.

  6. This is interesting. Until we determine the minimum requirements for sustaining our life cycle in space it will be hard to engage in colonization. This is one reason why space station programs are useful. Even if the ISS is the mess it is.

    It used to be considered at one time that white people could not do hard labor in the tropics without dying in droves. This was one of the reasons behind the popularity of African slave labor in some parts of the New World, but not all. The army of the British East India Company eventually learned that they could reduce the incidence of malaria by drinking tonic water laced with quinine. Vaccination and pest control started being more common. Today tropical diseases are not as much of a problem for those rich enough to afford treatment.

    Today there are pills or other treatments to help reduce jet lag. With enough effort we should be able to produce a safe, cost effective, long term environment for living in space.

    My guess is that we will eventually use a mix of partial gravity and specific drugs to control the worst side effects of living in space. Some people may opt to genetically alter themselves to reduce the side effects. Some of these genetic alterations might make them non-viable on Earth without extra mechanical assistance. Life would evolve and specialize, as expected, but a bit more rapidly.

    The US military probably should be one of the leaders in this research, with help from private companies, and academia, since they have experience with these kinds of situations where people need to adapt to new environments. Space is one environment that will eventually need proper defense capabilities.

  7. Looking at this backwards, I wonder how zero g compares to other contraception methods for effectiveness?

    Would the Catholic Church object to zero g on religious grounds? Or could married catholic girls have fun in space without sin or pregnant consequences?

    People tend to spend the vast majority of their life not conceiving, only spending a very small proportion of their life actually conceiving. So for the most part, it is probably beneficial not detrimental in this regard. I do suspect that centrifuges will ultimately prove effective for conceiving and gestation, still it would be nice to find out sooner rather than later.

  8. In the spirit of extrapolation, I would ask if living on Jupiter (or at least in Jovian gravity) wouldn’t give one 3.5 times the health of 1 G.

    A long time ago, I thought it would be neat to build an earth-based 3.5 G centrifuge and train our Olympic athletes in it. A couple of years ago, I bounced the idea off of Jonathon Clark. We never got to the meat of the question, unfortunately, because he had too much practical knowledge of how screwed up one gets trying to live in a centrifugally-manufactured G field. Reality is so inconvenient sometimes…

  9. Would the Catholic Church object to zero g on religious grounds?

    I think they’d object to sex in zero-g if it could not lead to conception.

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