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How aerial travel and Cabin Pressure adversely affects the Human Body

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        IB Group 4 project (Biology)        

IB Biology 1 HL Group 4 Project

Agreed Topic: Transportation

How aerial travel and Cabin Pressure adversely affects the Human Body

Grade 11

December 2003 - January 2004

Effects of Traveling in an Airplane and the Effects of Travel into Space on the Human Body

The idea of humans traveling to the Moon or other areas out side of the Earth’s orbit is mostly scientific. However, when astronauts remain in space, having to re-balance the body to suit less or no gravity compared to the Earth could bring about many changes to the body. Scientists have found that the time required for recovery depends on the time spent in zero-gravity conditions. The longer one stays off of the Earth’s surface, the more damage can be caused. Strictly speaking, even a trip in an Airplane would require safety precautions to minimize damage to the body of this. For example, cabin pressure increased to maintain balance and prevent feeling different to a lower pressure. This essay will consist of two sections. The first will be of flight effects within the Earth’s hemisphere, and how to perhaps prevent damage to the body. The second, and longer section deals with space travel through Zero-gravity and effects of weightlessness on the body and the counter-measures to prevent damage to the body.

Section 1, flight effects on the passengers, specifically dealing with cabin pressure:

        Airplanes fly at the cruising altitude of around 33’000 feet, or approximately 10’000 meters.

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Staying in Zero-gravity for months causes bones to lose mass and get thinner, as they are not carrying any weight. This means astronauts must go through rigorous trainings in the spacecraft everyday in order to keep muscle and bone strength. “When a great deal of the crew’s precious time in space is spent exercising rather than doing science, money and potential knowledge are being squandered for the sake of health. It is a sacrifice, but a necessary one[1]

In space, receptors in the inner ear allow humans to sense direction. In space, ear receptors don’t receive the same cues and the mind gets used to ignoring the inner ear’s feelings about balance. Hand-eye coordination, posture and balance are all affected by the disorientation of the mind. When astronauts return to earth, they are often “overwhelmed by dizziness” and have difficulty in maintaining balance. An example of the mind adapting to the new gravity less surroundings would be with Shannon Lucid, who was on board the Russian space Station MIR for six months.  The astronaut said “You just sort of get used to floating around” but we also know that floating around is not all that astronauts do- they must resist the effects of micro gravity on the body.

Also, no gravity means no resistance from growing, so some astronauts return to earth some 6 inches taller than when they left. It is only after a few months that they grow down/ shrink back to normal height.

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        Whether or not the large amount of time and money spent on keeping astronauts fit during space flight is worth the scientific findings is debatable. Physiological effects need to be prevented as much a possible. Again, this is usually prevented by rigorous exercise and micro gravity could still be a danger to the astronaut’s health. Many scientists believe that the benefits of transporting/sending out machines (robots) and humans to space, despite the health issues, are nothing compared to the huge benefit that society will receive. Humans will not be perfectly suited to living in a weightless environment, but that won’t stop Astrobiologists and many other research firms like NASA from exploring space. The many benefits of space exploration such as technological knowledge and inspiration easily outweigh the negative aspects.

Total word count excluding diagram: 1837 words


Sources were from Newspapers, CDs, web sites and a large extract of a book in one of the web-pages. Most web sites accessed on the  11th December 2003 and 9th January 2004.

  1. http://library.thinkquest.org/C003763/index.php?page=adapt02
  2. www.permanent.com/s-nograv.htm
  3. http://library.thinkquest.org/C003763/index.php%3fpage=adapt02
  4. www.spacefuture.com/habitat/zerog.shtml
  5. http://mos.org/cst/article/77/6.html
  6. http://school.discovery.com/schooladventures/spacestation/basics/why.html
  7. www.relaxincomfort.com/zerogravity_benefits.html
  8. http://experts.about.com/q/2540/2677459.htm
  9. www.uclas.ac.uk/facs/science/physastr/courses/space/ssyear1/sc1201.htm
  10. http://www.who.int/ith/chapter02_01.html
  11. Definitions from Microsoft Encarta 2003 Premium Suite CD
  12. http://library.thinkquest.org/2606/Environmental_problems/water_pollution_-_effects.html (used for first idea of project)

        -  -

[1] http://library.thinkquest.org/C003763/index.php%3fpage=adapt02

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