• Question: Are there any benefits to low/zero gravity? Could anti-gravity be harnessed? Are there medical pros / cons to it? And if it was something that was being developed or adapted, when would it be potentially functional on earth?

    Asked by Anon on 27 Dec 2015.
    • Photo: Adrianos Golemis

      Adrianos Golemis answered on 27 Dec 2015:

      Hello, again, Anon! I think it’s fair to say that low gravity (0G) is… just different. I bet it could be beneficial for a thing or two, but generally speaking our human bodies have evolved to perform well in the presence of Earth’s gravity (1G). So there is a number of challenges to face when an Atsronaut goes to space, where gravity is practically zero, or on the surface of the Moon or Mars, where gravity is but a fraction of what we experience on Earth. These challenges impact on most systems of the human body, including cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, immune, and others. Astronauts typically swell during their first days in space, then gradually their feet muscles grow weaker as they don’t use them so much. They are more prone to disease too while their bone density decreases. Small eyesight problems that may result from low gravity have been reported too. The human sense of orientation is also affected when gravity is low.

      Most of these can be reversed after returning to Earth, where gravity is what our bodies are made for. But even in space scientists have devised several techniques or equipment to keep Astronauts as fit and healthy as possible.

      With regards to your last question, i believe that there are yet benefits to be discovered in living with low gravity. If the case was such, i guess it wouldn’t take more than 10 to apply the effect on the Earth, theoretically speaking. A good analogy for low gravity could be floating in the water – after all that’s where the Astronauts train for space even today!

    • Photo: Steve Price

      Steve Price answered on 27 Dec 2015:

      Hi, when something is in zero gravity there is no net gravitational force in any direction. If you manufacture things then the gravity does not distort the shape, like a ball bearing. To our eye a ball bearing looks round but it won’t be exactly round. For use in our cars it doesn’t really matter, but if you wanted to position something to nanometer accuracy or better then it would have an effect.
      All the structures we build on Earth have to withstand the weight of the structure due to the 1g force. Spaceships that would operate in space could be lighter and use less material.

    • Photo: Floris Van Den Berg

      Floris Van Den Berg answered on 28 Dec 2015:

      Research wise there are a lot of benefits to micro-gravity. In micro-gravity we can look at the behavior of structures and processes and compare them to what we see on earth.

      For example the way liquids behave in space without the earth pulling them in one direction. But also the way a flame behaves in space (google that for images) can help us understand and improve efficiency of engines.

      By exposing astronauts to micro-gravity, we can look at an increased process of change in the bones and muscles. The information we get form this, can help us understand the normal aging process of the body.

      So in a way the negative effect of micro-gravity for astronauts, will have a positive effect for the ‘normal’ population on earth. As we understand better what happens to the aging body, we can develop better ways to deal with this!

    • Photo: Julia Attias

      Julia Attias answered on 31 Dec 2015:

      Hi Anon,

      I would pretty much parrot what Floris, Steve and Adrian have said to you. Microgravity provides useful in the sense that it enables us to have a platform by which to further understand how our body is supposed to function in “normal” surroundings. Further, it enables us to understand the potential influence of unloading on the human body and which populations on Earth may be at “risk”.

      There are many ways to “simulate” microgravity on Earth, including being underwater, laying in bed for long periods of time, or being suspended in a harness-like way, or by lower body positive pressure. This allows us to take a look at some of the effects we would expect in astronauts and many terrestrial populations without having to go all the way to space to find them out! Populations such as those in intensive care, spinal cord injury, debilitated individuals due to a breadth of injury, athletes who are detrained (perhaps due to injury), the elderly and those with casted limbs (there are many more), may all undergo similar physiological challenges to astronauts. Thus whatever we learn about astronauts in space we can apply to those populations on Earth and think about applying the same countermeasures, which is very valuable to all of us.