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22 news posts in Space and beyond


03 Nov 2023

Wearable devices may prevent astronauts getting ‘lost’ in space

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ Losing your sense of where you are can be fatal enough for aircraft pilots: spatial disorientation is a leading cause of fatal aircraft accidents. But losing your orientation in space itself is even more dangerous. Scientists have now developed wearable devices called vibrotactors that, combined with specialized training, improve people’s ability to fight spatial disorientation and could help astronauts correct themselves when their perceptions can no longer be relied upon. The sky is no longer the limit — but taking flight is dangerous. In leaving the Earth’s surface, we lose many of the cues we need to orient ourselves, and that spatial disorientation can be deadly. Astronauts normally need intensive training to protect against it. But scientists have now found that wearable devices which vibrate to give orientation cues may boost the efficacy of this training significantly, making spaceflight slightly safer. “Long duration spaceflight will cause many physiological and psychological stressors which will make astronauts very susceptible to spatial disorientation,” said Dr Vivekanand P. Vimal of Brandeis University in the United States, lead author of the article in Frontiers in Physiology. “When disoriented, an astronaut will no longer be able to rely […]

Image: E|A|S (Evolving Asteroid Starships)/Joris Putteneers

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16 Aug 2023

Sustainability in space travel can aid efforts here on Earth

by Angelo Vermeulen/Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: E|A|S (Evolving Asteroid Starships)/Joris Putteneers Dr Angelo Vermeulen is a space systems researcher at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he explores advanced concepts for interstellar exploration. Over the past decade, he has collaborated closely with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) MELiSSA program, developing concepts for bioregenerative life support systems for space. In such systems, a variety of microorganisms progressively break down human waste and the resulting compounds are harnessed by plants to produce oxygen and food for the crew. Beyond his scientific pursuits, Dr Vermeulen is also an accomplished artist and a co-founder of the SEADS (Space Ecologies Art and Design) collective. SEADS creates artworks that seamlessly integrate concepts and technologies from a diverse array of scientific disciplines, including biology, neuroscience, computer science, and astrophysics. He is the author of a recently published Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences article in which he and his co-authors describe a new model that theoretically produces all required food and oxygen during long-duration and remote space missions, removing the necessity for resupply from Earth. In this latest entry to the Frontier Scientists series, he has caught up with us on his current […]

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13 Mar 2023

Why understanding human evolution on Earth will be absolutely essential for any future deep-space colonies to survive and thrive

By Lee G Irons, Norfolk Institute, and Morgan A Irons, Cornell University Photo of Lee and Morgan, Credit: Lee Irons and Morgan Irons Is human migration into space inevitable? Is it based on facts, or is it based upon a belief in human exceptionalism? These are some of the questions explored by Lee and Morgan Irons in a recent article published in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, asking whether humans’ evolutionary connection to Earth requires us to inhabit space the same way we do here. Lee is a physicist, engineer, and the executive director of Norfolk Institute. Morgan is an astro-ecologist and PhD candidate at Cornell University, a Carl Sagan Institute Fellow, a US National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and a Norfolk Institute Fellow. In this latest guest editorial, they explain why – and why not – space settlement might be possible. How can such a feat be accomplished? Is it just a matter of leveraging the resources of a billionaire and the capital power of the economically developed Earth to ship the materials to Mars to build a city with a dome, followed by pressurizing the dome with an Earth-like atmosphere, and spreading biosolids (ie, sterilized human […]


07 Nov 2022

5 articles you need to check out on the future of materials research

By Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image: In a fast-moving field of research like materials science, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest breakthroughs. Now at Frontiers, we highlight just five of the latest research articles to shed more light on the way we build our world around us, published by top researchers in the Frontiers in Materials Research Topic ‘Horizons in Materials’. Growing green technology: from trees to tech Scientists aiming to power the appliances of the future are developing special phenolic compounds from resins instead of petrol – a first step towards organic electrodes. Since biomass is the only green, renewable source of carbon materials, carbon-based electrodes for new-generation metal-ion batteries could be a more eco-friendly replacement for lithium-ion batteries. Some of the methods to make these compounds currently available are problematic because they require dangerously high temperatures and pressures and hazardous chemicals, but new methods are being developed which use mechanical forces instead. If these compounds can be developed into renewable sources for electronics, Dr Javier Quílez-Bermejo and his team at the Université de Lorraine point out, the potential for revolutionizing electronic devices would be huge, opening the way for greener fuel […]

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14 Oct 2022

New walking robot design could revolutionize how we build things in space

By Suzanna Burgelman, Frontiers science writer Image: Researchers have designed a state-of-the-art walking robot that could revolutionize large construction projects in space. They tested the feasibility of the robot for the in-space assembly of a 25m Large Aperture Space Telescope. They present their findings in Frontiers in Robotics and AI. A scaled-down prototype of the robot also showed promise for large construction applications on Earth. Maintenance and servicing of large constructions are nowhere more needed than in space, where the conditions are extreme and human technology has a short lifespan. Extravehicular activities (activities done by an astronaut outside a spacecraft), robotics, and autonomous systems solutions have been useful for servicing and maintenance missions and have helped the space community conduct ground-breaking research on various space missions. Advancements in robotics and autonomous systems facilitate a multitude of in-space services. This includes, but is not limited to, manufacturing, assembly, maintenance, astronomy, earth observation, and debris removal. With the countless risks involved, only relying on human builders is not enough, and current technologies are becoming outdated.  “We need to introduce sustainable, futuristic technology to support the current and growing orbital ecosystem,” explained corresponding author Manu Nair, PhD candidate at the University of […]

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22 Mar 2022

‘Science is a measure of our ignorance: the more we know, the more we realize how little we know’

By Dr Gianluca Calcagni, IEM-CSIC Image: Writing as part of our Frontier Scientists series, Dr Gianluca Calcagni of IEM-CSIC in Madrid gives us an insight into his research that aims to find answers to some of the most puzzling and complex mysteries that makes up almost everything in the universe. Dr Gianluca Calcagni obtained his degree in physics in Italy at Padua University and, in 2005, his PhD at Parma University. He has worked at a number of research institutes in Japan, the UK, the US, Germany and Spain and is now a faculty member of the Instituto de Estructura de la Materia, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (IEM-CSIC) in Madrid. As a member of the LISA and Einstein Telescope consortia, his research areas are gravitational waves, nonlocal quantum gravity, multifractal spacetimes, cosmologies beyond the standard model, and string theory. He has published three books and more than 100 papers in physics since 2003. Since 2016, he has also been doing research in behaviural and clinical psychology, in which he has a degree, an MSc and three published papers. Last year, he was awarded with a Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences Diversity Award for his community engagement as […]

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09 Nov 2021

Off-world colony simulation reveals changes in human communication over time with Earth

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science writer Image: SciePro/ Future planetary colonists will experience isolation like no other group in human history, which is why scientists on Earth are attempting to see how we communicate in the most extreme situations. In a paper published with Frontiers, researchers in Russia observed volunteers in isolation attempting to replicate life in deep space to see how it would impact their mood and communication styles. Despite some initial differences, the eventual cohesion of the team offers hope for future moon and Mars colonists. Elton John famously sang that Mars “ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids”, but one day space agencies across the globe hope to prove him wrong by seeing the first human establishing the first colony on the Red Planet, and elsewhere in the solar system. However, those who make the journey will not only have to survive on a freezing planet with no breathable atmosphere, but live in isolation unlike any other explorers in human history. At its closest proximity, Mars is still almost 55m km away from Earth, making communication delays and supply issues between the two worlds unavoidable. This requires crew members to effectively cope with stressful conditions […]

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17 Mar 2021

Astronauts in crewed Mars missions could misread vital emotional cues

By Tania Fitzgeorge-Balfour, Frontiers science writer Long-exposure photo of the centrifuge used to simulate microgravity in the research subjects. Image: DLR Spending an extended period with reduced gravity, as would be experienced by astronauts on long space missions, may have a negative effect on cognitive performance, and in particular emotion recognition, reveals a new study. Hoping to counteract these changes, researchers found that short periods of artificial gravity did not have the desired effect. The findings of this study could have implications for effective teamwork in future space travel, especially for manned missions to Mars. Living for nearly 2 months in simulated weightlessness has a modest but widespread negative effect on cognitive performance that cannot be counteracted by short periods of artificial gravity, finds a new study published in Frontiers in Physiology. While cognitive speed on most tests initially declined but then remained unchanged over time in simulated microgravity, emotion recognition speed continued to worsen. In testing, research participants were more likely to identify facial expressions as angry and less likely as happy or neutral. ► Read original article► Download original article (pdf) “Astronauts on long space missions, very much like our research participants, will spend extended durations in microgravity, confined to […]