As part of our ‘Medicine Beyond Earth’ category, Flight Surgeon and Medical Director Dr Aleksander Wasniowski will be revealing his findings on a recent programme that saw the first ever disabled person join the crew on an analogue space mission in his Day 1 session ‘Disability in Space – The Next Giant Leap’.
In the city of Pila in North western Poland lies an amazing connection with space exploration. Called the LUNARES Research station, it’s a site on Earth known as an “Analogue facility” that mimics effects on the human mind and body similar to those experienced in space.
Analogue missions test individuals, solutions for space flights and future inhabitation of extra-terrestrial locations. Combining his experience from the remote areas of the globe, first-response medicine, radiological tele diagnostics and telemedicine, Dr Aleksander Wasniowski co-creates the Polish programme of the analogue Mars and Moon missions at the LUNARES habitat. The programmes have traditionally been developed for exceptionally fit and able people, but accidents can happen anywhere.
One of the recent programmes (called ICares-1) undertaken at the site was the first analogue mission that included an individual with disabilities. Structural material scientist Marcin Kaczmarzyk who is blind and has only one hand with 3 fingers, joined 5 other crew member to conduct experiments and test behaviour.
The main purpose was to test how a disabled person would perform daily duties related to the work of an astronaut, including measuring biological rhythms and negative effects associated with the lack of access to natural lighting during an astronaut’s work. It was also to test scenarios in case of a critical accident on a real base.
During the two week mission the German-Polish-French crew of three women and three men tested habitat accessibility and performed extravehicular tests for people with disabilities, which included specially designed space suits and the use of a wheelchair as a roving vehicle. The three layer space suit included armour and takes 40 minutes to put on!
They followed a sports and physiotherapy programme, 3D-printed parts of a bionic hand and undertook a series of biological experiments including hydroponic plant cultivation, leech and fly cultures in microgravity simulated conditions, and earthworm culture in meteorite soil. They also went through survival training including wind tunnel free-falling, first aid training, field games and survival courses, and zero-gravity immersions.
Aleksander Wasniowski said: “This crew selection process is exclusive to the LUNARES facility and includes monitoring of social dynamics, time perception and stress levels as well as physical health capabilities. It’s really important to examine human interactions under duress – we even staged the fake death of a crew member.”
NASA astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Mike Barratt and Don Pettit will also be speaking at the conference about a variety of experiences and research activities within the ongoing space programmes across the conference’s 3 days.
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