Dragon spacecraft with a full compliment of crew. – SpaceX


A Perspective for Crew Safety

by jonathan goff

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past year or two on a few blogs (Selenian Boondocks,Transterrestrial Musings, and also Wayne Hale’s blog, among several others) about the proper level of emphasis on crew safety for commercial crew vehicles. The basic thesis that I and several of these other bloggers have made was that crew safety was only one of several important metrics, and shouldn’t be overemphasized at the expense of all others. The fear being that if “safety is our first priority”, then actually accomplishing the mission, or doing things affordably enough to enable new commercial markets often take the backseat (if not being neglected entirely). The problem is that it’s easy to brush off this argument. After all, we’re talking about human lives here. So what if it takes an extra billion or two, and adds 2-3 years to the development time, and ultimately costs so much that the resulting vehicles are only affordable for NASA, so long as we reduce the risk to our brave astronauts who’ll be flying on these risky commercial vehicles?

I had an interesting thought experiment that I think puts this line of thinking in a different perspective.

One of the most promising applications I’ve seen for microgravity research on the station is the development of vaccines. Apparently some infectious diseases (I think mostly bacterial ones) behave very different in microgravity–they grow much faster. This increase in virulence combined with turning off some of the confounding factors supposedly enables researchers to more quickly isolate the cell receptors, genes and such that govern the spread of the disease, allowing researchers to craft vaccines that have fewer negative side effects, are more effective, and in theory can make it through clinical testing and to market faster than terrestrial-developed counterparts. At least that’s the theory as I understand it, in semi-layman’s terms. Two specific diseases are currently being worked on by NASA and commercial firms like Astrogenetix are Salmonella and MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). The theory is that a MRSA vaccine developed on the station will be more effective than a terrestrial version, and will have fewer negative side effects.

Read more: A Perspective for Crew Safety | Moonandback.

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