Do you realize the gravity of the situation?

220px-BEAM_press_conference_01The truly great thing about the ISS is the value to science. I doubt anyone would debate that.

However, the wost thing about it, from a crew standpoint, is that it’s in space. Then again, it wouldn’t be the ISS if it wasn’t.

The reason? It’s difficult to control your movement, let alone work, in the absence of gravity. Remember, though, that lack of gravity is crucial to some of the experiments that are performed there.

Still, zero gravity is a bit rough on the personnel in the long run. Returning astronauts and cosmonauts invariably lose muscle mass and physical strength on long missions.

So how could it be made more comfortable?

Simple, at least in theory. Find a way to simulate gravity while in orbit.

How could this be done?

A constantly rotating module would do exactly that, though it may not provide the same amount of gravity we have on Earth (1 G).

Imagine being inside a large spinning drum. You’d feel yourself being pulled towards the outer wall, which would appear to you to have a curving floor. Some of the systems inside it, especially plumbing, would have to be self-contained, but it would work.

But wait! I know what you’re thinking…what about Newton’s First Law?

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, right?

If one part of the station began to spin, the rest of the station would begin to spin in the opposite direction. The ISS isn’t designed to do that, and would most likely be torn apart if that happened.

Fortunately, again in theory, this is easy to overcome. A drum or flywheel, using the same axis and rotating in the opposite direction as the drum, would cancel out the torque and allow for safe operation.

In fact, it’s simple enough an idea that Bigelow Aerospace is actually developing a module call BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity MOdule) to do exactly that. While not terribly large, it could allow for things like easier sleep, eating, and exercise for the astronauts in orbit. Imagine being able to someday go into a real kitchen and cook something in space, or go for a jog!

So if you were designing such a module, what would it look like? How big would it be and what would you put in it?



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