The International Space Station (ISS) has now been actively supporting humans in space for 21 years. Since November 2, 2000, people have continuously resided in that small laboratory looking down on the rest of us, watching sunrises and sunsets sixteen times a day from a different perspective. The experience can be a reminder of how small we are. Astronauts have described a feeling that has been called “the overview effect.”
The overview effect is a change in perspective that many people experience when looking down on Earth from space. We are accustomed to seeing a limited view of our surroundings. However, when a person’s horizon opens to see the circle of the Earth (Isaiah 40:22) hanging on nothing (Job 26:7) surrounded by an extremely thin and fragile atmospheric layer (Job 26:10), the experience can be mind-changing if not life-changing.
The ISS orbits a little over 200 miles (322 km) above Earth’s surface. The Kármán Line at 100 km (62 miles) is the internationally-recognized boundary of space. Recently, commercial space companies have taken private individuals beyond that boundary to view Earth from space and briefly experience microgravity described as weightlessness. Perhaps the most notable was 90-year-old actor William Shatner who played Captain Kirk on the TV series Star Trek. In a tweet he wrote before the flight, he described himself as “a boy playing on the seashore…whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Shatner’s reaction after he returned to Earth’s surface is very interesting. He shed emotional tears, and here is some of what he said:
“I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary, extraordinary. It’s somuch larger than me and life… It has to do with the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death… To see the blue color whip by you, and now you’re staring into backness…everybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see this.”
I think Shatner is correct that it would be beneficial for each of us to see Earth from that perspective just once in our lifetime. The overview effect could change our attitude toward many things, including life and death. In addition, it would help us realize just how small we are and how amazing it is that God cares about us. (See Matthew 6:25-34.)
More and more data shows that leaving Earth and venturing into outer space away from Earth’s constant gravity and the protection of our atmosphere and magnetosphere is much more destructive than anyone imagined. One of our regular readers sent us a quote from NBC News about the potential health problems of space travel. Here is what it says:
“The number of deaths due to heart disease among the Apollo lunar astronauts is almost five times greater than that in non-flight astronauts, or astronauts who never flew missions in space, researchers from Florida State University found. Compared to astronauts who flew only in low Earth orbit (LEO), the heart risk among Apollo astronauts is four times higher. There were no differences between LEO and non-flight astronauts.”
We recently reported on the astronaut twin study, which showed physical changes even in low Earth orbit. We don’t yet know what potential health problems of space travel may become evident in the long-term.
Micro-gravity and exposure to radiation seem to combine to cause bodily harm. Earth’s magnetic field is more protective than science has understood. Working in the International Space Station is less of an issue because the LEO means that some of Earth’s protections still function.Going to Mars may be impossible with the present spaceship design.
We will be interested in future data on travel to the Moon and prolonged existence in outer space. We know that God’s design of planet Earth makes it suitable for life, but we are not fully aware of the potential health problems of space travel. You can read the full NBC report from HERE.
One of the most exciting experiments conducted on the Space Station has been the twin study in space. Mark and Scott Kelly are identical twins, and both are astronauts. Scott lived aboard the International Space Station for a year. Mark remained on Earth and lived his normal lifestyle. Both men took daily blood and urine samples so that scientists could evaluate any changes caused by living in space.
Life aboard the space station is very regimented and very different from Scott’s previous life on Earth. On the Space Station, fluids swelled around Scott’s upper body and head, his immune system worked overtime, and his metabolism was altered. Of greatest interest to scientists was that Scott’s genetic makeup – his DNA – had been damaged.
There are protective structures called “telomeres” at the ends of our chromosomes. These structures get shorter with age and put the person more at risk for age-related illnesses. In Scott’s case, the telomeres temporarily lengthened and then became shorter. This means that space flight could put the body at risk for age-related conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
What conclusion can we draw from the data of the twin study in space? First, the human body was designed for living on planet Earth. Even a small change in environmental characteristics can make genetic changes that can be detrimental to human health.
Politicians and the media often use the word “fake” in all kinds of dubious ways. Now we can apply the word to an asteroid known as 2020 SO (Space Object). It seems that this fake asteroid is just space junk.
There has been concern among astronomers for many years about the large number of rocks in our solar system. Right now, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has almost a million identified asteroids and comets, some of which could strike the Earth and cause massive destruction. The idea is that by cataloging these objects, we can know if any are on a collision course, so we might intervene to alter the trajectory.
It turns out that at least one of the cataloged asteroids is a fake asteroid. It is actually space junk. A NASA scientist determined that it is the upper stage of a Centaur rocket that put NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander on its way to the Moon in 1966. This rocket is just under 32 feet long and 10 feet in diameter and traveling at 1500 miles per hour. Another fake asteroid has turned out to be the third stage of the Saturn five rocket, which NASA launched in 1969 during the Apollo 12 mission.
Scientists are concerned about the amount of material that humans discard. That includes plastics that clutter the oceans and provide a constant headache at landfills. Chemicals dumped into rivers and lakes have had a very destructive effect on fish and other life forms, including humans. Space is also becoming more and more cluttered with human space junk. The material left from space launches is becoming a hazard to communications satellites and even space vehicles, including the International Space Station.
A significant issue for the future is our total lack of care for the planet on which we live. We not only have the problem of plastic waste and carbon dioxide emissions, but now we have the issue of space debris.
From 1957 when the space age began, until January of 2019, humans have placed nearly 9,000 satellites in Earth orbit. More than half of them, around 5,000, are still in orbit, and 1,950 are still functioning. In addition to the satellites, there is debris from all this activity. The European Space Agency tells us that there are 130,000,000 pieces of debris larger than .04 inches in orbit around Earth. The number of articles between .4 inches and 4 inches is 900,000, and 34,000 are 4 inches or larger.
What all of this space debris does to Earth’s neighborhood is becoming a concern to scientists. It creates a danger of collision with operating satellites or crewed spacecraft, such as the International Space Station. That danger becomes especially apparent when you realize that space debris can be traveling at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour (28,100 km/hr). The threat obviously increases as we continue to orbit objects of all kinds, leaving more junk in space.