Humanity’s plans to start life outside the planet is definitely not as easy as it sounds, and scientists from NASA are actually saying that now is definitely not the time for humans to leave their home planet. 

In a report, scientists discuss the very real problems that humans need to overcome before they can start living outside of Earth. This includes concerns on artificial gravity and health risks brought about by dangerous radiation in space. Aside from these, scientists also worry about the psychological effects of being away from one’s home planet and living in space for a very long time. 

These concerns were discussed during the first Space Science and Investment Congress hosted by the micro-nation of Asgardia in Darmstadt, Germany. In a panel discussion which was attended by various scientists and astronauts such as physicist Floris Wuyts from the University of Antwerp, NASA scientist Dr. Mark Shelhamer, NASA Apollo program scientist Professor Laurence Young, Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne and the Minister of Information for Asgardia, Lena De Winne, the challenges that are expected to be faced by humans in space were thoroughly covered.  

Per Wuyts, prolonged exposure to microgravity among humans can have some very serious negative effects on the body and the brain.

“The effect of microgravity on the human body is to a certain extent pretty devastating because all the systems are actually simultaneously affected. There are issues with the vestibular system, there are issues with atrophy,” he said. 

According to the scientist, it is very important and ethical that the space community should conduct further testing on the effects of microgravity on the human body. He even suggested a form of artificial gravity via a centrifugal force on a rotating space station as a way to counter its effects. 

However, even this is not an assurance that humans could survive while living in space. Wuyts also discussed the importance of tackling mental health. 

“What hasn’t been touched upon so far at the conference – it will emerge in the future definitely – is the impact on human psychology. I think going to low Earth orbit, knowing that in a couple of hours if something really happened you can go back to Earth, you have to confirm this feeling. But if you are on Mars and you can’t even recognize Earth among the other stars, that feeling of being so lonely can be of a great impact.” 

Aside from Wuyts, NASA’s Dr. Shelhamer also weighed in on the issue, saying, “My perspective is also coming from the side of human health performance and health, and I can’t disagree with anything that we’ve heard so far, especially the psychology aspect of it.”

“I used to be asked when I was working in this field for NASA for a few years, what was the thing that kept me up at night in terms of human optimal performance? What is the thing that is really going to be the obstacle? And of course, you can go down the party line and say radiation’s going to be a problem, psychological aspects are going to be a problem, visual impairment is going to be a problem as a consequence of fluid shifts.” 

However, unlike Wuyts, Dr. Shelhamer was more optimistic that humans can overcome these problems. 

“Those are all very unique problems but I think those are solvable. The one that keeps me awake at night now is the problem we haven’t thought of, it’s the problem that arises possibly from some crazy interaction of the things we think we do understand. So we know a lot about weightlessness on the body, we know a fair amount about radiation effects, we understand very little about synergistic effects between the two of them.” 

US sportswear manufacturer Under Armour designed the new space suits for Virgin Galactic's upcoming commericial flights US sportswear manufacturer Under Armour designed the new space suits for Virgin Galactic's upcoming commericial flights Photo: AFP / Don Emmert