Private Citizens in Space: A Beacon for Science Research


Possibilities for human spaceflight analysis are on the rise as a record of citizenry head to space, and medical techniques for studying these individuals, improve. This is substantiated by the journal Nature publishing records of the physical and mental changes experienced during the Inspiration4 mission, back in 2021. The astronauts, partnered with SpaceX, experienced minor molecular variances, dysregulated immune processes, and slight reductions in cognitive actions. However, researchers can only analyze that data, which comprises around 100,000 medically-related points, on account of the astronaut’s reliable collection of it themselves.

The astronaut preparation, although extensive, still falls quite afar from that of NASA. The Inspiration4 crew receive training, mainly from SpaceX, which provides the Dragon vessel for their space voyage. However, comparing it to NASA astronaut’s regular health tests is like “night and day.” The participants of the Inspiration4 mission, being ordinary citizens, have never been under scientific research before, so the researchers came up with a testing suite that could function with minimal training. The astronauts also wore Apple Watches, and the capsule was equipped with an array of environmental sensors that researchers could combine with the other testing results.

All these data gatherings prove to be critical as the number of individual citizens heading to space is expected to continue to increase in the coming times. The researchers are trying towards minimizing the cognitive burden on the private space citizens by moving towards digitising testing and making data-collecting passive. This data will serve to understand the effects of space travels on people who don’t fit traditional NASA astronaut stereotypes — male, white, and amongst the top percentiles for physical and mental intelligence.

The latest findings and data from the Inspiration4 space mission are promising, especially for space tours. The data collected from these missions will provide a lot of information about the short-term journeys in space, which apparently do not pose significant health risks for the astronauts. Although the data is currently being analyzed, it is anticipated that longer and more extended space travels wouldn’t be as dangerous for the astronauts as previously deemed.

The data collected would also help future space tourists diagnosed with pre-existing conditions to learn how they would fare in the zero G environment. The research is yet to begin, but the potential is tantalizing. Commercial providers of these space missions are cooperating together to standardize and pool this data, which will be contributing to a ‘common knowledge base’.

An increase in non-governmental missions raises questions related to the norms, ethics, and regulation of human study in space. Will private astronauts, who have paid million dollars for a space tour, be obliged to participate in scientific experimentation? Will these astronauts want to spend their space tour carefully measuring their temporary cognitive decline or painstakingly performing ultrasound on themselves?

Last year Dr. Donoviel co-published an article in Science expressing the need for the development of sets of principles to guide commercial spaceflight operations. One of those principles includes social responsibility where private astronauts are more likely to be socially responsive to advance research in space in return for the facilities provided them.

Dr. Donoviel argues that the advancement of wearable technology has reduced the burden imposed on the research participants — not just with the Apple Watch, but with tech like the Biobutton device that continuously collects many vital signs or a sweat patch. She hopes that the future space tourists consider the social responsibility of advancing research in space while they get ready for their out-worldly journey.

Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei covers the space and defense industries. Previously, she covered the public utilities and the power grid for California Energy Markets. You can also find her work at MIT’s Undark Magazine, The Verge, and Discover Magazine. She received an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Aria is based in Austin, Texas.

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