NASA astronaut and physiologist, Dr James (Jim) Pawelczyk from Penn State University, gave an inspiring talk to a captivated audience on his space shuttle mission, and the challenge facing humans going to Mars. Guests varied in age from local Year 7 school children to university professors, the President of The Physiological Society, as well as our own University students and departmental staff and their families.
Jim shared his fascinating story of his journey into space as part of the STS-90 crew on the US Space Shuttle Columbia in 1998. He described physiological experiments on the vestibular system of men, mice and fish, as well as the daily routine on board the spacecraft. He then went on to highlight the challenges faced by prolonged space flight to Mars and the need to re-establish a base on and around the Moon as a prelude to the trip to Mars. He stressed that the 7 year olds in the audience will be the generation that will become the astronauts going to Mars.
Scientific evidence points to the existence of water on Mars which would form the basis of human exploration. He explained that with a journey time of two years or more there would be significant challenges. In particular, the psychological effects of isolation from Earth where the planet would be viewed as a distance star, as well as physiological changes associated with muscle atrophy, bone decay and the cumulative effects of radiation. But importantly he shared with us the need to understand physiological processes if we are to explore our solar system with success.