NASA And Stony Brook To Study How Space Travel Affects Human Health

Jul 19, 2019


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Saturday marks 50 years since the first moon landing. Now, NASA is tapping a team from Stony Brook University to investigate how going to space impacts human health. 

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The team is one of eight NASA has selected to help further exploration of our solar system with robots and astronauts. Timothy Glotch, a professor of geosciences at Stony Brook, leads the team.


Professor Glotch, thank you for joining All Things Considered. What do you hope to find in your research? 


So the overall goal of the RISE2 team, which is the name of our team, is to help pave the way for humans to safely return to the moon and explore and get back safely to Earth. So as you mentioned one of our goals is to try and understand the health effects of exploration. We have a team of geochemists working with folks in the medical school at Stony Brook University to understand the reactivity of dust on the moon, and how if you breathe that in how that might lead to potential health effects. 


And how will you work with the other teams? 


That’s a great question. So we’re working with teams who have expertise both in spacecraft robotic exploration, as well as radiation and other effects that astronauts might be exposed to. One of our other goals is to really further the science that we get from analysis of samples that the original Apollo astronauts brought back.


So we have team members at Stony Brook University, as well as Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, who are using sophisticated instrumentation to look at some of the Apollo rock and soil samples brought back. Other SSERVI [Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute] teams are interested in that, so we’re comparing our results so we can get the most science possible out of these samples that were brought back, some of them 50 years ago.


Professor, do you think there will be more visits to the moon in the near future?


Oh gosh! I hope so. There’s so much left to explore. I’m in Stony Brook, and I would say the total surface area that we’ve explored on the moon, going from Apollo 11 through Apollo 17, is less than the size of the village of Stony Brook. If you were a lunar, if you grew up on the moon and plopped down on the surface of Earth and explored a little bit of Stony Brook, you wouldn’t be able to get everything you wanted to know about the Earth from exploring that small area. There’s a lot left to explore, and there’s a lot of discoveries left to be made.


Why is it important that we explore the moon and the rest of the universe? 


Well, I think exploration of the solar system and the rest of the universe really starts to answer some of the fundamental questions we have as humans, which is: where do we come from? how did we get here? and where are we going as a species, as a society over time? The moon has some of the oldest rocks in the solar system, it really is a witness place for processes that occurred on Earth, as well as on the moon, very, very early on in our history.


Earth doesn’t have rocks settled anymore because we have plate tectonics and erosion that destroy evidence of what was occurring on Earth very early on. From the standpoint of the solar system, the moon is practically right next door, it’s our next door neighbor. So anything that was occurring on the moon during those first hundred million years or even ten million years of solar system history was also occurring on Earth.


So by exploring the moon, we can learn a lot about what was going back on Earth. The current administration has proposed to return to the moon by 2024. That is a very ambitious goal that would require lots of new resources, so we’re all just kind of waiting and seeing what’s going to happen and see how the political process plays out to get us there. But there’s a lot of science and exploration left to do if we go back.   


Stony Brook’s Timothy Glotch, thank you.


Stony Brook University Professor Timothy Glotch will lead a team to help NASA research future exploration of our solar system. He’ll discuss the Apollo 11 landing 50 years ago and what it will take for a new long-term presence on the moon, at Stony Brook Southampton at 1 p.m. Saturday.