To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.

While in space, Williams studied the effects of a microgravity environment on himself. Williams noted that bodily fluids pool in different parts of the body, most visibly in the rosy cheeks of the astronauts on the In- ternational Space Station. Astronauts must also acclimatize to motion sickness as their equilibrium is in conflict with what they visually recognize as up and down. A more serious side effect of microgravity is muscle atrophy, which occurs when muscles are not being used. In space and in LEO, the human body is not fighting gravity to maintain an upright posture and, therefore, muscles begin to atrophy (Williams). Finally, one of the most serious physiological problems astronauts face is bone demineralization. According to Williams, bone demineralization is the loss of calcium and bone mass which occurs immediately upon introduction into a microgravity environ- ment. Bone demineralization makes the astronaut more susceptible to skeletal complications such as fractures and osteoarthritis. The recovery process is fairly long, and the astronaut may never fully recover to their pre- flight status (Williams). Aside from technology restrictions, many physiological conditions must be addressed if prolonged space flight is to become a reality for mankind. Setting the technology problems and the effects of microgravity aside, Jeffery Chancellor describes one more fundamental problem with human exploration. Mr. Chancellor and his associates work for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and the Center for Space Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. In Chancellor’s article, he points out that mankind has not yet developed a sufficient way of shielding astronauts from the solar radiation of the sun’s frequent coronal mass ejections or from galactic cosmic radiation, also known as cosmic rays (Chancellor 491). On Earth, these highly charged and extremely fast-moving particles are safely diverted away by our magnetosphere and are seen as the Aurora Borealis and the Australis Borealis. Chancellor points out that without some way of shielding our astronauts beyond LEO, they will begin to show signs of radiation sickness and central nervous system and tissue degradation (Chancellor 493). Fortunately for robotic exploration, our current shielding technology is sufficient to protect the more sensitive computer func- tions. Quite simply, robotic exploration provides a cost-effective solution to the problems that dog mankind. If a manned mission to Mars and beyond is ever to become a reality, the fundamental problems of achieving orbit, re-entry, and the physiological problems of bone demineralization, muscle atrophy, and radiation poisoning must be addressed first and foremost. Robotics effectively mitigates the cost of failure, loss of life, and human restrictions while still completing rudimentary mission expectations. Conversely, James Vedda, a policy analyst at the Aerospace Corporation and the author of “Becoming Spacefarers: Rescuing America's Space Program,” argues that rather than the “we were here first” mentality of current space programs, nations should focus on making our current technologies better. Vedda argues that we should stop looking for the next unknown destination and focus on utilizing, testing, and improving our current assets. By “going slow” and developing a self-sustainable environment for humans, we can surpass the need for robotic dependence (Vedda 35-37). The ultimate goal is not to reach out and declare that we were here first, but to take the next step in extending the human race into space and significantly reducing the current resource limitations that are inherent to our planet. In conclusion, it is no surprise that in a finite world of land and resources with an infinitely growing pop- ulation that space is mankind’s next logical step. The looming question is whether we are reaching for too much too fast by recklessly charging forward with manned spaceflights or by sacrificing the benefits of human cogni- tion and ingenuity for posterity and scientific fulfillment. First, human exploration alone brings a unique ingenui- ty to the mission while suffering from the potentially devastating side effects of prolonged exposure to space. Secondly, robotic exploration by itself foregoes the physiological drawbacks of humans while enduring the effec- tive loss of human cognition due to latency restrictions. Moreover, both human and robotic exploration is plagued by our inability to reliably achieve orbit and re-enter the atmosphere. The most optimal solution for mankind is to slow down, refine its technologies, and synergistically utilize both human and robotic capabilities. The ultimate goal of space exploration is direct human exploration and eventual utilization. 42
edit