How Space Travel Can Kill You
Astronaut Leroy Chiao is a veteran of four space missions, recently acting as Commander of Expedition 10 aboard the International Space Station. He has logged over 229 days in space - over 36 hours of which were spent in Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA, or spacewalks). He served as a member of the White House appointed Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee.
Dr. Chiao left NASA in 2005 and is involved in entrepreneurial business ventures and works in the US, China, Japan and Russia. He is a director of Excalibur Almaz, a private manned spaceflight company. In addition, he is a director of InNexus, a biotechnology/pharmaceutical development company. Active as a consultant and public speaker, he also serves as the Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute User Panel, which is attached to the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Chiao is a director of Challenger Center and of the Committee of 100. He is also an advisor and spokesman for the Heinlein Prize Trust.
Question: Are you still involved with NASA at all?
Leroy Chiao: Yes, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute was created about, let's see, I think it was about 12 years ago by NASA, and it was looking for a way to funnel research dollars through this institute to go out and collaborate with universities and other research institutes in a way that NASA would have more difficulty doing because NASA is a government agency. And so, it was created and run by the Baylor of College of Medicine and I was hired on, probably about, let's see, I guess it's been about three years. And I am the Chairman of the User Panel, and what we are, we're a panel composed of current and former astronauts as well as current and former flight surgeons. And what we do is we advise the Chairman, we're an Advisory Panel, and we advise the chairman on the research projects that we think are operationally relevant. That is, what do we need to learn about and what do we need to develop a protocol for to deal with a medical problem in space?
So, as an example, one of the biggest concerns about going out beyond lower Earth orbit is the radiation. We find that exercise seems to counteract a lot of the negative effects of space flight, like bone loss and muscle atrophy and cardiovascular systems issues, but really, the radiation is something you worry about. If you start going on a trip to Mars, you're going to get away from the Van Allen Belts, you're going to be susceptible to solar flares, and what do you do. So, that's one of our big areas of concerns and so we see us advising the Director for the NSBRI, but we should fund more research on developing better detectors, or pharmaceutical counter measures maybe, to help protect astronauts from radiation, or even looking at shielding. What kind of lightweight shielding would be effective to create a safe haven in a spacecraft going to Mars.
Other areas, as I mentioned, were bone loss and muscle loss and cardiovascular atrophy. Those are always significant areas that we are worried about. You know, exercise, as I said, seems to counteract a lot of that, but right now, we exercise two hours a day on the station, which is a huge hit out of your day. I mean, it's great for staying in shape, but you know, it cuts into the productivity of the crew and if you look at how expensive it is to get a crew into space, if we can keep them healthy and have them exercise, but spend less time doing it, we can get more done.
Question: What sort of exercise regime do astronauts perform in space?
Leroy Chiao: Well, it's very important, first of all if you think about it, especially in a long flight like a six month space flight and on the ISS. If you didn't exercise and used the analogy on earth, it would be like laying in bed. So, just imagine laying in bed for several months, and even just trying to get up and walk, you probably wouldn't be able to. But if you got up and you exercised two hours a day, you'd probably be okay, and that's the same in space.
The exercises we do, we do cardiovascular and resistance exercises, and so we have a treadmill, but of course, we have harnesses and rubber Bungies to hold us down to the track so that we don't float away. We have exercise bicycles and we also have a resistive exercise device that uses loaded cords that we can vary the resistance on and you can attach a bar or a harness to these cords and do weight lifting type exercises. So, that helps keep your bones and your muscles in shape.
Question: What has been done to address bone loss from space travel?
Leroy Chiao: Well, one of the ultrasound experiments that we did onboard was very interesting. We were doing something called telemedicine, where we were using the ultrasound. I'm not an M.D., and neither was my crew mate onboard, but we were able to, with very little training, show that we could produce diagnostic quality images of bones, eyes, internal organs, and things like that. And so, one interesting application of this ultrasound is the possibility that you could possibly use it to measure critical bone areas, areas where we know historically have seen a lot of loss, and you could actually track during a long space mission do measurements and track if you're losing bone in these areas. So, that's something that's very exciting because on Earth, when they check you for bone loss, you get in this big machine, I mean it's huge. It's the size of a room and it's got a platform with an x-ray that scans your whole body and in critical areas and it takes a while and it just wouldn't be practical to have a machine like that in space. So, if you could show that using a portable diagnostic quality ultrasound, which basically is the size of a laptop with some extensions to it, if you could actually measure reliably, bone loss with that, that would be a great tool to have.
Question: What about blood tests in space?
Leroy Chiao: Well, there's some very exciting work in that area and one of the researches is funded by NSBRI, is working on exactly that. And that has real application because when you're monitoring an astronaut, and we're not always monitored, but during certain times when we're having a physical exam, you know, we have to take blood samples, or we have to give other samples, and it's not easy to do, especially in zero gravity. So, if you can imagine trying to squeeze blood out of a finger prick and then getting it into a capillary tube and getting that into a machine to be analyzed. It all can be done, and we do it, but it's – then you might have some droplets of blood floating around. So, if you can find a non-invasive way to do it that would certainly make life easier for us onboard. Also, when you're in a spacesuit, we do some very rudimentary monitoring right now in both the Russian and U.S. spacesuits. We load up a simple electrocardiogram and the flight surgeons can look at your heartbeat while you are doing the space walk. They can also – well, they don't have it right now, but they can also theoretically look at maybe with this device the oxygenation of your blood and other parameters just to determine the health of the astronaut who is doing the space walk.
So, this kind of technology is very exciting and has real application in space. And the neat thing about a lot of the NSBRI projects, or that are funded by NSBRI, is they also have application for patients on the ground. The ultrasound that I mentioned has application not only in space for a long mission or for a mission to the Moon or Mars, but also in remote areas on the Earth. Not even just – I’m not even talking about expeditions like to the Antarctic, but just a remote area, a small town somewhere. The local doctor is not going to know everything, and so if that person can link in with a diagnostic ultrasound to the hospital in New York City through the internet, then they can do a very quick diagnosis of something that's wrong with someone that's in this remote area.
Question: How is fatigue an issue in space?
Leroy Chiao: Well if you ask the astronauts, will tell you there is no issue, you know. But of course, fatigue is a problem. I mean, it's as big a problem in outer space as it is on the ground and you could make an argument that it is even more critical in space because a mistake up there could be literally, life threatening, or could cause big problems in the mission. So, fatigue is an issue that we are concerned about. We are definitely scheduled for a full eight hours of sleep every night, but just like on Earth, you're often busy and you don't – you usually don't use all that eight hours to sleep, you're usually staying up and catching up on things, or doing something you want to do, looking at your photographs, or watching a movie, or something.
And so, over time, over a long mission, fatigue can really build up and that's something that we are trained as astronauts to be self-aware of. We have to kind of monitor it ourselves, but we also have tools and some of which are also funded by NSBRI. We have self-assessment tools, computer-based tools to see how we are performing mentally and there's some also very interesting technology and work that's being funded by NRSBI to look at facial recognition to look at your patterns to see if you're experiencing stress or fatigue.
I find that interesting and I have to tell you, as an astronaut, it makes me a little bit concerned because as an operator I can see getting up there and thinking, well now I've got to control my facial muscles to make sure they don't think I'm stressed out. But really, it's a kind of thing that I think will gain acceptance with gradually. But it probably has more to immediate application in things like homeland security, and looking at facial recognition of people going through airports and things like that to see who's under stress.
Recorded on December 16, 2009
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What does sports fandom look like in the new normal?
- With the masses huddled at home and glued to our screens, the last several months of frozen competition provided an opportunity for sports franchises to experiment with creative modes of fan engagement, often involving multiple media channels.
- On another level, this is a challenge that wasn't prompted by COVID-19 and won't go away when COVID-19 does.
- Franchise marketers are accelerating their digital transformation processes, finding innovative ways to connect with fans online, with VR, community building and repackaging classic content.
Head back to the stadium – virtually<p>After months of deprivation, fans are panting to see their favorite teams. For the moment, they are so eager to return to live sports that they are ecstatic over any live game broadcast. On July 5, some 5.7 million people tuned in to the Southampton v. Manchester City match, making it the Premier League's most-watched match ever. </p><p>But as time goes by, the shine of live sports will wear off. An empty stadium is disappointing both for viewers at home and for players. The NFL's "virtual draft" event in April drew a larger audience (15.6 million) than Monday Night Football did last weekend (14 million), even though the former was little more than a televised Zoom call while the latter was a marquee matchup between two of the hottest teams in the league, the Chiefs and the Ravens.</p><p>The time has come for the sports industry to find creative ways to harness technology for the next generation of fan engagement. What can we learn about the future based on what worked best during the pandemic?</p>
Breathe new life into regurgitated content<p>Filling up gaps in the programming schedule with reruns of classic games worked well at first, but returns are diminishing. Success requires networks to put more work into their content choices.</p><p>Tommy Stimson, managing director at Qualitative Insights, <a href="https://marumatchbox.com/4-actions-fan-engagement-sports-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">points out</a> that fans aren't very interested in games from the last 10-12 years. Footage from these games is already widely available online, plus "The known outcome and familiarity with the content makes the reruns less-than-satisfying." Instead, Stimson recommends showing iconic, historical sports moments that most of today's fans haven't seen or experienced. </p><p>Fans appreciate reruns far more when the footage is interspersed with new analysis and commentary, either from current players or from the athletes who were playing at the time. One of the darlings of Netflix's pandemic-era programming lineup, Michael Jordan's <em>The Last Dance </em>documentary, which followed the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls on their title run, drew an average of 5.6 million viewers for each of its ten episodes.</p><p>Many teams hosted social media-integrated "watch parties," where former players shared their personal memories and fielded questions from fans while streaming classic games, and fans were delighted with the multi-screen experience, which dovetailed perfectly with game rerun telecasts. <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-sports-with-empty-stadiums-means-millions-of-americans-will-be-engaging-from-home-301094037.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">One poll</a> found that 76 percent of U.S. fans want more watch party-style viewing options moving forward.</p>
Screenshot of New England Patriots re-watch party ad
Credit: Facebook<p>Networks would also do well to tap into the <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/money-sports-success" target="_self">deeper reasons</a> why people follow sports, by sharing narratives about how teams come together as a unit, or times when players overcame adversity. Viewers are eager for behind-the-scenes content that reveals how players stay in shape, how managers set strategies, or the motivating factors behind decisions to trade, draft, and otherwise acquire talent.</p><p>As brands collect more viewer data, they can also deliver more personalized content experiences that engage fans more deeply. </p>
Invite fans to vote for in-game elements<p>Giving fans ways to have a real effect on in-game elements is another winner for the sports industry. Juventus has long been a trail-blazer for digital transformation, so it's no big surprise to see the storied soccer franchise leading the way again.</p><p><span></span>Juventus <a href="https://www.socios.com/new-goal-celebration-song-for-juventus-is-revealed/" target="_blank">invited fans to vote</a> for its new in-stadium goal celebration song using Socios, a token-based voting and rewards platform, to ensure that the results wouldn't be sabotaged by rival fans or manipulated by hackers.</p>
Credit: Twitter<p>Fans overwhelmingly chose Blur's "Song 2," and were rewarded by <a href="https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-7868543/Juventus-fans-chose-iconic-Blur-track-goal-anthem-pioneering-blockchain-vote.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hearing the song four times</a> in the first back-to-business game between Juventus and Cagliari. </p> <p>Socios has been doing some interesting work in the digital fan engagement realm beyond the Juventus example. Its parent company, Chiliz, partners with teams to issue blockchain-based, franchise-branded coins. Apollon Limassol FC decided to put on a head-to-head skills challenge between players, with <a href="https://medium.com/chiliz/apollon-fc-apl-fan-token-sells-out-in-6-minutes-generating-100k-f3bc6a98e75d" target="_blank">fans using tokens to vote</a> on the matchups. In esports, itself a social distancing-friendly concept, fans of Spanish team Heretics were able to vote on which players would go head to head in Fortnite death-matches.</p>
Encourage fans to connect together at home<p>Part of the beauty of sports is that it forges relationships. Season ticket holders connect with neighboring seatmates in the stadium; families bond over a shared love for their teams; friends come together to watch the big match and analyze it ceaselessly during and after the game.</p> <p>It's difficult to translate this to a situation where even private socializing is frowned upon, but it's not impossible. </p> <p>To build hype as the NFL season neared, Pepsi <a href="https://www.marketingdive.com/news/pepsi-delivers-tailgate-in-a-box-to-football-fans-hankering-for-game-day/584016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tapped into this demand</a> with a "Tailgate-in-a-box" kit that includes an outdoor projector and a range of Pepsi products. The kit is valued at $5,000 and was delivered to sweepstake winners, so it's unclear how this will translate into the general market, but the opportunity is clear. Pepsi is also experimenting with a "tailgate tour" that brings live music and outdoor games to fans viewing from home. </p> <p>The <a href="https://www.sportbusiness.com/2020/09/nba-leverages-microsoft-partnership-to-revolutionize-virtual-fan-experience/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NBA led the way recently</a> by offering 320 fans the opportunity to "attend" games in the Orlando bubble. At-home viewers logged in through Microsoft Teams, and their streamed likenesses were beamed onto 17-foot video boards set up around the courts. The tech made it look like viewers were sitting next to each other, plus participants could interact with each other and see and hear their reactions in real time. The NBA has other plans to allow fans to chat during games, display a real-time statistical overlay, and introduce gaming elements as well. </p>
Credit: Instagram<p>Technological advances, including <a href="https://bigthink.com/what-would-it-take-to-create-a-fully-immersive-virtual-reality" target="_self">virtual reality</a> (VR) and augmented reality (AR), offer teams new ways to offer virtual fan experiences.</p> <p>Another option that could become very popular is <a href="https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2020/05/27/virtual-reality-sports-fans-broadcasts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">audio AR</a>. Powerful recording equipment picks up the minutiae of sounds that make up the audio backdrop of in-stadium viewing, and then broadcasts it to at-home viewers. AR allows the noise to grow louder or fainter as viewers "move" closer to or further away from the action. Brands can even add crowd sounds, like gasps at a near miss or the shouts of vendors, to enhance the experience. </p> <p>In Japan, an app called Remote Cheerer allowed fans to capture their real-time reactions to on-field action and actually play triggered sounds in the stadium, instead of the canned crowd noise we've hearing in our MLB, NFL and NHL telecasts. This type of solution keeps fans at home more engaged and makes even the passive TV watching experience more authentic.</p>