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5/5/2020

Blue Abyss gives keynote at UK Space LABS webinar on returning to the Moon

Blue Abyss gives keynote at UK Space LABS webinar on returning to the Moon

Last week, Dr Simon Evetts, Blue Abyss Research and Development Director, gave a keynote talk about how Professor Walter Kuehnegger, a Principal Investigator of the Apollo Moon Program, conducted research for NASA that ultimately enabled humanity to explore the Moon. The UK Space Life & Biomedical Sciences (UK Space LABS) webinar addressed the implications on human physiology and psychology during an extended stay on the Moon, and how these might be addressed.

The last time humankind flew beyond low Earth orbit and to the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Since then, as a species we have not returned to the Moon. In light of plans for our return as early as 2024 (NASA’s Artemis program1), the multi-national interest in establishing lunar bases and using the Moon to more directly benefit society, as well as a gateway for sending humans to Mars, necessitates the physiological and psychological effects of an extended stay in such a niche and extreme environment to be addressed.

NASA’s proposed timeline for the Artemis program

In April, UK Space LABS held an appropriately themed webinar ‘’Returning to the Moon: Implications’’ to discuss these challenges. The webinar was originally intended to be a symposium as part of the UK Space LABS initiative of advancing the fields of space life science and biomedicine in the UK. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the symposium was moved on-line with the support of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). A number of European experts gave talks on their space life science research to explore relevant questions, from the psychology of living in isolation, to methods of remote medical monitoring, to expected deleterious effects of spending time in zero and low gravity environments.

Representing Blue Abyss, Simon Evetts, who is also a co-founder of UK Space LABS, spoke about the research Professor Kuehnegger conducted for NASA’s Apollo program, which aimed to send an astronaut to the Moon by 1970. This research was stimulated by the lack of knowledge during the 1950s and 60s on how a human being might best move around under the influence of lunar gravity, which is only about 16.6% as strong as on Earth. Questions such as how physiology is impacted by this harsh environment, how long a human could survive and work within a pressure suit, how much oxygen would be required for different intensities of work, and what the most resource efficient way of moving on the Moon would be, needed to be addressed before an astronaut could safely take on this mission.

Prof Moon

Professor Kuehnegger’s research provided such answers and ultimately paved the way to human exploration of the Moon. One of the focuses of his research involved deciphering which gait is the most efficient in terms of metabolic consumption of energy and oxygen in relation to the distance able to be covered. This question was of high importance since astronauts would need to explore the Moon’s surface for several hours, carrying out a number of different activities, including carrying equipment and moon rocks, and wearing pressurised space suits have limited oxygen supply. Professor Kuehnegger therefore conducted the first ever computer analysis of total human body motion and worked out the energy expenditure required for different forms and speeds of movement on the Moon.

Top and bottom left: images from Professor Kuehnegger’s research - a research subject walking backwards down a stepladder; chart of metabolic energy expenditure under Earth and lunar gravity conditions. Middle: Buzz Aldrin climbs down the Eagle's ladder to the Moon’s surface. Right: John Young performing the kangaroo hop while saluting the U.S. flag.

Dr Evetts highlighted that,

Professor Kuehnegger’s research led to the famed ‘Lunar Kangaroo locomotion’ principle, now at the forefront of our minds when we imagine astronauts on the Moon. His findings indicated that for a given ‘metabolic load’ i.e. a level of oxygen usage, a kangaroo hop-type movement enabled an astronaut to travel faster and further than running or walking under lunar conditions.

We can see here that a number of the Apollo astronauts were very pleased with his recommendations.

A dear friend to the Blue Abyss team, Professor Kuehnegger unfortunately passed away in 2019 of natural causes. However, his legacy lives on, not just through the naming of the Blue Abyss R&D centres (the Kuehnegger Human Performance Centres), but also through modern research taking roots from his work to explore how humans can best return to, and extend their stay on the Moon. From there, with crewed missions to Mars being planned by the 2030s2, more gait research based on this work is needed to facilitate the exploration of the red planet, an environment with twice the gravitational force of the Moon3.

Depiction of humans exploring Mars

The webinar was a great success, with positive feedback from an international audience. It highlighted the important research efforts invested into studying human physiology in space, which are greatly needed for our plans to return to the Moon, with the ultimate aim of establishing a permanent lunar base as a stepping stone to further solar system exploration in the decades ahead. Needless to say, Blue Abyss intends to support the effort in the years ahead through preparing people to be able to work in, and enjoy, this challenging but inspirational environment.

References:

1. https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/

2. https://www.space.com/crewed-mars-mission-astronaut-dangers.html

3. https://mars.nasa.gov/all-about-mars/facts/

Image sources:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html; https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/; https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html; https://www.itv.com/news/2019-01-03/moon-landings/; https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_261.html

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