December 17, 2012

Doctors Urge Space Physicals For Cosmic Travelers – The Daily Orbit

Docs prepare for “space sickness

What’s got scientists buggin’?

And do dreams of sugar plums dancing in your head have you distracted?

All that and more coming up on the Daily Orbit!

Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.

While traveling in space you may experience motion sickness, orthostatic intolerance, neurovestibular dysfunction, and increased cardiac dysrhythmias. Sound like a pharmaceutical commercial? A group of docs are addressing the potential hazards and medical consequences that may accompany space travel for the average person. With the likelihood of commercial space travel increasing every day thanks to companies like Virgin Galactic, members of the medical community say there is very little literature on the medical disqualification of potential travelers. Currently space medicine experts say that they are investigating and designing prevention and post-flight treatments for muscle atrophy, osteoporosis, kidney stones and infections, and a possible increased risk of cancer along with all the other symptoms I listed at the top of the show. I don’t know about you, but after this I’m a kind of reconsidering my desire to go in to the sub-orbital space.

And as we pump tons of money into space travel and the search for extraterrestrial life, some scientists say we need to be putting those dollars into studying the biodiversity of our own planet. Up until now, scientists have had a hard time estimating the exact number of arthropods on Earth. A new study reveals that bugs out-number mammals 312 to 1. Although these creepy crawly little creatures typically get a bad rap from humans, scientists say that most insects are incredibly important to the global ecosystem as they are responsible for maintenance of the forest. Of the 6 million arthropod species, only 1 million have been classified. Why do arthropods flourish in numbers? Scientists say it’s because they are small and their larvae never compete with adult species for food. Yikes! I’m going to dream that bugs are crawling all over me tonight…I just know it!

And speaking of bugs, these little ping-pong sized robots sort of remind me of a swarm of bugs…don’t you think? Professor Nikolaus Cornell at the University of Colorado-Boulder is developing small robots – dubbed “droplets” – that can swarm together to form what the professor is calling “liquid that thinks.” Cornell is hoping to create large quantities of these miniature robots so that they can perform complex projects such as cleaning up oil spills or assembling space equipment that must be transported in different parts. Correll points out that every living organism is made up of a swarm of collaborating cells. He plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. The professor believes that there is “virtually no limit to what might be created through distributed intelligence systems.” I like his ambitious creativity. Ugh! I just realized, I will probably now dream about insect-like robots attacking me. Thanks Professor Cornell!

And a new tool will help policy makers, scientists, and land managers make environmental decisions such as deciding where to put a road or building. The model predicts how sound spreads from a source through the surrounding landscape using spatial data layers. It predicts how sound is affected by factors like vegetation, terrain, weather conditions, and background sound levels. For example, the tool looked at human and owl sensitivities to motor vehicle sounds. The tool found owls are 45% more sensitive to vehicle sounds than humans. Such noises could be detrimental to their survival as they rely on their acute sense of sound to hunt their prey. Noise pollution can reduce habitat quality, alter biodiversity, disrupt animal communication, and cause stress on animals. Scientists say that using this tool to predict the effects of sound on a bird or mammal species “will allow for a more adequate balance of land-use planning decisions with conservation consideration.”

Have you noticed the roads seem to be a little more dangerous during the holidays? A new study might pinpoint the cause. Researchers say that a “substantial portion” of automobile accidents occur when a driver’s mind begins to wander. Interviewing hospital patients involved in car accidents, researchers found that 52% of these drivers reported some “mind wandering” just before the crash…and 13% said they were experiencing “highly disrupting or distracting” mind wandering before their accident. The researchers concluded that when drivers allow their minds to wander, particularly during times of deep and intense thought, they’re more likely to “overlook hazards and to make errors during driving.” So as the jingle bells begin to jingle and you get ready for ole Kris Kringle—try to keep your mind on the road.

And that does it for today’s Daily Orbit. See ya tomorrow science geeks 😉

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