China’s astronauts from the Shenzhou 16 mission have made significant advancements in cultivating vegetables aboard the Tiangong space station, marking a crucial step in preparations for future deep space endeavors. These developments have been primarily focused on:
- Vegetable Cultivation: Mission commander Jing Haipeng, along with rookie astronauts Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao, have been tending to plants using two specialized equipment sets.
- The first set, operational since June, has successfully harvested four batches of lettuce.
- The second equipment set, operational from August, is designed for growing cherry tomatoes and green onions.
The Science Behind Space Farming
The China Astronaut Research and Training Center has initiated efforts to replicate the conditions of the space station here on Earth. This allows them to:
- Analyze and compare the growth of plants in both terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments.
- Examine divergences in how plants grow in space versus the ground.
Yang Renze, a researcher from the center, emphasized the importance of these advancements. “This vegetable cultivation apparatus is a key part of the whole Environmental Control and Life Support System [ECLSS]. It is employed in space to validate pertinent technologies. Our future aim is rapid and large-scale cultivation,” he informed CCTV. Additionally, he mentioned that the system could significantly benefit deep space exploration ventures, including China’s anticipated crewed lunar and Mars missions.
Benefits of the ECLSS Cultivation Apparatus:
- Absorbs carbon dioxide from the air.
- Produces oxygen through photosynthesis.
- Assists in water regeneration and purification via plant transpiration.
China’s Ambitious Space Objectives
China has set ambitious goals for space exploration:
- They are planning to send astronauts to the moon by 2030.
- Proposals to construct an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in the coming decade are underway.
- Mars is seen as a future destination for Chinese space missions, with a crewed landing on the Red Planet being part of long-term aspirations. Learn more about China’s space plans.
Ensuring Astronauts’ Health: The Manned Spaceflight Medical Support Team
Every successful space mission is a cumulative result of the hard work of countless individuals. Among them, a team hopes never to employ its expertise: the Manned Spaceflight Medical Support Team. Their primary focus is addressing astronauts’ health emergencies.
Two Decades of Dedication
Since China’s inaugural manned spaceflight in 2003, medical experts have played an integral role in each mission. Gu Jianwen, head of the medical support team, highlighted the contributions of around 3,000 medical professionals, spanning various specialties, who have provided essential health services during these spaceflights.
Preparations for Current Missions
For the Shenzhou XVI and Shenzhou XVII missions, a group of 15 senior medical professionals has been equipped with essential first-aid resources. Their preparations include:
- Providing medical assistance during the launch and return phases of missions.
- Preparing for 29 potential emergency scenarios, including burns, injuries, and frostbites.
- Specific training and action plans for each potential emergency.
The meticulous preparations also extend to accommodating the environmental challenges at the Dongfeng Landing Site, ensuring the team is equipped for any eventuality.
Challenges of Extended Space Travel
One of the foremost challenges faced during prolonged space missions involves the effects of microgravity on the human body. The absence of gravity can result in muscle atrophy, weakened bone density, and cardiovascular anomalies.
- Muscle Atrophy: In a microgravity environment, astronauts may experience a significant reduction in muscle mass and strength. This occurs because muscles don’t need to support the body’s weight, leading to decreased usage and subsequent weakening.
- Bone Density Reduction: Prolonged space missions can lead to osteoporosis-like symptoms. The lack of gravitational force on bones causes calcium loss, resulting in brittle bones that are more susceptible to fractures.
- Cardiovascular Issues: The fluid shift in the body due to microgravity can lead to orthostatic intolerance, making it difficult for astronauts to stand up after returning to a gravity environment.
Looking to the Future
Gu expressed the medical support team’s focus on future expeditions, especially the challenges that come with longer missions to the moon and even Mars. The primary concerns involve understanding how astronauts will adapt to the lunar and Martian environments and ensuring their physiological well-being during extended spaceflights.