Saturday, February 27, 2021

To Infinity, and... well, how about to low earth orbit and beyond?

Space. The final frontier. These are... Ok, these are not the voyages of the starship Enterprise, but rather, the musings of someone who likes space. Personal space, sure, but also space space, the area beyond earth's atmosphere (or even technically still within earth's atmosphere, as while it stretches up to over 6,000 miles above the earth, most of it is within the first 5-9 miles above the earth, and it's difficult to establish exactly where space officially begins, but it's somewhere north of ten miles above the planet's surface).

Space is cool, and I'm not just talking lack of atomic/molecular vibration (temperature). I've always wanted to go to space, although I suppose my acid reflux might not be conducive to staying there, as lack of gravity would aggravate the condition. I say "lack of gravity," but that's not technically accurate. There's plenty of gravity in space; in fact, gravity is what keeps the space station in orbit. If there were no gravity, the space station would simply fly away from the earth, never to return. The perceived lack of gravity of a person on board the space station is actually because the person is in a perpetual state of free-fall. You've heard of the vomit comet, right? The plane that provides a low- to zero-gravity environment for short periods of time? The way that thing works is it goes really high, then arcs down for a period of time, matching its descent to the acceleration of gravity from earth, essentially allowing everything inside to "fall" toward the earth (but without wind resistance, since the cabin is sealed and the air around the occupants is also falling at the same rate). Similarly, the space station, in orbit, is really "falling" toward earth, but in such a high arc and with such speed that it will never land. This falling is what provides the perceived lack of gravity and weightlessness on board the station. If you want to read more, this article does a great job explaining it (and it's amusing, too).

Anyway, no gravity has other detrimental effects on the human body besides increasing acid reflux (because earth's gravity naturally pulls your stomach contents toward your intestines target than allowing it to go back up your esophagus, weightlessness allows the contents to more easily return from their origin up near your head, so a weak lower esophageal sphincter or a hiatal hernia is bad for space travelers). Long term (a relative term, even a few days can cause these effects at a significant rate) low gravity can cause muscle and bone loss, which is why they have training equipment on the international space station. But there's a (potential) solution. Orbital Assembly Corporation plans to build an orbiting space station that includes artificially created low-gravity (plans currently expect to stimulate moon gravity). They plan to do this through in-orbit rotation, such that the outside edges of the station become a floor, and centripetal force pushes you toward that floor. Think of when you are in a car going around a corner really fast, how it pushes you toward the outside of the corner; of you don't have well bolstered seats, you'll end up sliding toward the outside of the car (or, if you're in a car with your brothers, you intentionally add your own force to the centripetal force in order to smash your little brother against the car door). In fact, amusement parks turn these sorts of things into fun and games; think of things like the scrambler. One time at a fair my dad, brother, and I went on one, and my dad sat in the middle to be able to keep hold of both his sons. Unfortunately for my little brother, he was on the outside, and was crushed the whole time by my dad and me! If you ever go on a ride like that, be sure to put yourself on the outside and your children on the inside, unless, of course, you really want to crush the little tykes.

So, back to the space station. They are ambitiously planning development, with assembly slated to begin in 2025. The station will be assembled by a robot in orbit, with another drone robot to provide observation of the process. They'll first build a smaller prototype on the ground to test the assembly process, then another in orbit to test the in-orbit assembly process and feasibility, reliability, and effectiveness of the spinning station artificial low gravity process, and then finally the actual station, which is slated to provide for up to 400 simultaneous occupants, and include things like "themed restaurants, viewing lounges, movie theaters and concert venues to bars, libraries, gyms, and a health spa." In other words, it's not just for scientists and research, although that will be part of its purpose.

I'd really like to go one day. I don't know what it'll cost for a stay, but I'll be sure to make a way for you, my faithful reader, to help finance my visit. Hopefully my heart attack won't be a limiting factor (I'm doing all my cardiac rehab, I promise! And I'll continue to do cardio and even strength training once the cardiac rehab is completed). Maybe we, the LBD faithful, can arrange a group trip once it's operational and open to the public. I can even blog about it. Who's with me?

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