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With the U.S. wanting to send astronauts on long trips to Mars, it's important to make sure disease prevention tactics are in place

While NASA's disease prevention methods have worked pretty well for shorter trips, like those to the International Space Station (ISS), American space travel is looking to send astronauts to Mars in the future and stronger germ-fighting techniques may be in order.

Dr. Leonard Mermel, a Rhode Island Hospital infectious disease expert from Brown University, has written a new paper of suggestions that could keep spacecrafts germ-free during longer expeditions -- such as to Mars.

After reading hundreds of papers about infectious diseases and citing 91 of them in his paper, Mermel came to a few conclusions that could prove problematic for long-term missions. These problems include the fact that limited power means no complex air filtration (which also means no use of disinfectants or hand hygiene products because they can emit hazardous vapors; microgravity can weaken the immune system in some ways while also increasing resistance to some microorganisms, and without gravity, germs from a sneeze do not simply hit the ground; they linger in the air.

What does Mermel suggest? Beefing up NASA's current disease prevention methods. This means vaccinating astronauts for several diseases and screening for many others, which NASA already does, but extend the vaccinations to include germs like Meningoccocus and Pneumoccocus. Screenings can be done pre-flight to include many strains, such as Staphyloccocus.

Aside from that, Mermel also suggested that astronauts receive formal infection control education and a new, low-energy diagnostic testing kit.

NASA could also consider whether to irradiate more food for longer trips, since food could be a source for germs. Irradiating the food means making it completely sterile, but it could be harmful for astronauts to eat sterile food for two whole years.

Further, Mermel believes future spacecraft makers could include HEPA air filtration as well as waterless hand hygiene dispensers.

"I've been involved for two decades with trying to prevent infections in the intensive care unit and general hospital settings and I've been involved with national and international guidelines, but there are a lot of constraints in space I had never thought of before," said Mermel.

U.S. President Barack Obama challenged NASA to put a man on an asteroid by 2025 and explore Mars in 2030. With such endeavors in mind, securing spacecrafts from as many germs as possible might be a good idea.

Source: Science Daily

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Higher Power
By tdktank59 on 10/22/2012 9:40:31 AM , Rating: 2
Or we could work on mini nuclear reactors like in subs... And then they will have some serious amount of power...

RE: Higher Power
By kattanna on 10/22/2012 11:34:34 AM , Rating: 3
and any spaceship that will be going to mars should also have a means to have limited gravity, if even for short times. spending 6-9 months in zero G then hitting gravity could have many issues.

RE: Higher Power
By yomamafor1 on 10/22/2012 2:27:39 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure how practical it is to launch a nuclear reactor, along with its inches of lead barrier, and inches of concrete housing to prevent explosion.

RE: Higher Power
By Schadenfroh on 10/22/2012 3:54:32 PM , Rating: 2
One can assemble it in space... or tie it between two Swallows and have them lift it into space, works for Coconuts!

RE: Higher Power
By Bubbacub on 10/23/2012 8:41:41 AM , Rating: 2
the main issue with space based nuclear power is not shielding (which is not there to prevent an 'explosion')- its being able to radiate the heat away.

a conventional reactor usually has a nearby river or ocean to radiate the heat away. in space the only way of getting rid of heat (and thereby driving an electrical generator) is to radiate it away.

the weight and size of the radiator required to get the heat out of even a very small reactor is prohibitively large.

infact power to weight ratio wise solar panels win hands down unless you go past martian orbit.

it does make the whole concept of vasimr slightly redundant

if we could build a really really large (im talking many football pitch sized) radiator system that was also really light and also able to collapse down into a 4-5m fairing then it might be feasible.

at the moment that kind of technology is not available - nor is anyone developing it.

RE: Higher Power
By m51 on 10/23/2012 2:18:29 PM , Rating: 2
For spacecraft operation the reactor is mounted on a boom away from the rest of the ship. A 'shadow' shield is used, shielding that only blocks radiation in the direction of the the important parts of the spacecraft. There is no need for a containment structure (concrete or otherwise). Reliability is extremely high.

As pointed out below though Solar cells give a much better power to weight ratio than nuclear as long as you operate no farther away from the sun than Mars. Ground operations however are much different because of the day night cycle, weight penalties for energy storage make nuclear power on the surface very competitive with solar, and much more compact and robust.

RE: Higher Power
By delphinus100 on 10/23/2012 9:57:58 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not sure how practical it is to launch a nuclear reactor, along with its inches of lead barrier, and inches of concrete housing to prevent explosion.

You have visions of a commercial power reactor, and not all nuclear reactors are the same. Those in nuclear subs are much smaller. Still smaller reactors have been in space already. A satellite using one of them, Russia's Cosmos 954, fell to Earth in Canada in 1978.

Though none were ever taken into space, various nuclear rocket engines were tested in the 60's and early 70's under the NERVA program.

Just Google: space nuclear reactor

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