Space Science and Technology - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:05 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:05 pm, 15th July 2019

My Lords, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin recounted:

“What I want to remember most is the glance between Neil and myself, with the engine shutoff, just the second after we touched down, because we had just completed the most critical door opening for space exploration in all of humanity”.

Opening that door had the potential to allow infective agents—“moon fever”, whatever that might be—to enter the capsule and be brought back to earth. Although science fiction had postulated several terrible diseases, one thing was certain: there would be no resistance to any such infection on earth. Therefore, the risk of infection had to be zero. It was not. In 1963, NASA recommended quarantine of any astronaut coming back from lunar landing missions and three weeks’ quarantine was deemed adequate to detect the emergence of possible lunar microbes. They have not been found, but organic material is out there, possibly pointing to our origins.

Dr Bill Carpentier, when aged 33, entered the sealed negative pressure capsule with the returning astronauts to monitor every aspect of their health, physical and mental. Analysis of gait in weightless conditions has now shed light on our neurological systems. Bone density changes explained fracture risks and the sequelae of intense radiation received in the Van Allen belts is still being monitored. Space medicine is now a sought-after training programme and has been established in the UK in part by the efforts of Professor Gradwell and colleagues from King’s.

Research into space flight includes the man-machine interface, human performance, fatigue effects, space cabin safety and habitability, decompression sickness, the fluid shifts in zero gravity that cause hypotension on re-entry, and spatial disorientation. This all informs aircraft accident investigation. Publications from astronauts’ data have looked at their cardio- vascular, pulmonary and nervous systems. However, as Dr Carpentier said:

“You’re not sending a cardiovascular system into space, you’re sending a person”.

That glance between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on landing on the moon encapsulates that human interaction that determines success or disaster. After Neil Armstrong’s death, his family had a simple request to us all:

“Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink”.