Company Spotlight: Space Health Research
Crewed space missions like many other human centric projects require lots of preparation and rehearsal, hence the widely accepted adage of – practise makes perfect. In space, as the stakes are so high, it is critical that potential risks of any mission are correctly analysed, mitigated and simulated where possible. From the early Apollo missions, Earth has provided an analogue environment for future astronauts to practice space missions and learn to survive in harsh environments. Some examples include:
- NASA – MDRS in the Nevada Desert
- The Concordia Station in the Antarctic
- NASA – NEEMO missions
- ESA – CAVES
- NASA – HI-SEAS
Until recently there have not been any publicised analogue missions on UK soil. Incorporated in 2022, Space Health Research Ltd has now successfully completed its first two analogue missions. The first was a mission on an isolated Scottish island in May 2022, the second analogue mission (August 2023) has also just been successfully completed too. Space Health Research looks to improve understanding and researching on astronaut’s health in space environments. They have also had the opportunity to speak with the former Canadian Space Agency Astronaut, Robert Thirsk to develop first-hand knowledge; due to him holding the Canadian record for most time spent in space.
In conversation with founder and CEO, Myles Harris, he describes why it is important to research health in remote environments on Earth. Essentially, this enables them to map, develop and address characteristics prior to future space missions. As Myles aptly puts, “health is a very holistic concept, you can’t have physical health without psychological health as they’re two sides of one coin”. In understanding what makes up human health, Space Health Research aims to advance research through its carefully designed analogue site simulations.
“The idea is that we provide this platform that research can be conducted within, whether that’s product and technology testing, whether that’s doing social science, whether that’s testing services, whatever it is. All of those projects can be done during an analogue mission that contribute to space exploration, which arguably affects a few people. A small number. But by doing that, the benefits and what we learn about space exploration have tangible benefits for life back on Earth.”
Myles Harris – CEO at Space Health Research
Excluding the concerns over astronaut lives and health, the outcomes of human research in space enabled by analogue sites can support human health research on Earth too. Myles points to remote health monitoring as an essential humanitarian response, describing that “the intention is to have remote and rural healthcare systems that extend the reach of a health system, and that new technology can be developed during an analogue mission”. Human space health and the development and testing of remote care technologies are only some of the potential benefits of conducting analogue site simulations.
On the 20th to the 23rd of May 2022, in a first of its kind for the UK, an analogue space research mission took place. However, conducting this pioneering mission in an isolated island off the coast of Scotland, takes careful logistical consideration as well as considerable time in planning. Several of the board members are trained mountaineers, and there is also vast expertise on the board of directors including senior academics, clinicians, legal experts, expedition experts and artists. With the primary support of the board of experts, the analogue astronauts selected for the missions go through a meticulously designed training, deployment, and evaluation model throughout the analogue mission simulation. Setting themselves apart from other analogue site simulation programmes, Space Health Research does not charge analogue astronauts to take part in research. As Myles notes, “We think that you shouldn’t have to pay to take part in research. By doing this it opens the opportunity up to more people. And because it’s a research focused mission they can take part and they don’t have to worry about paying to be an analogue astronaut”.
In addition to making analogues site missions more accessible, Space Health Research is also focused on championing equality, diversity and inclusivity. Referencing its analogue astronaut selection process, Myles notes “We will never tarnish a group of people with the same brush. For example, there is an element of risk for somebody who’s living with type one diabetes and going to space or going on an analogue mission. One way that we could manage that risk is to exclude anybody with type one diabetes. Not only is that immoral, but it is also unethical.” To fully understand their position as an analogue astronaut, Space Health Research treat each applicant as an individual case, placing high importance to an equal opportunity for individuals who are disabled or living with chronic conditions. Here Myles also points to the space environment, namely microgravity, as offering equal possibilities for different bodies. Exemplified by the prospective UK astronaut, John McFall who at the age of 19 had his right leg amputated, however he continues to excel in both his athletic achievements and academic pursuits.
Space Health Research has an artist in residence, Director of Art, Dr. Sarah Fortais – (Her work is viewable here). Commenting on the importance of art in the sector, Myles notes, “Both myself and the company think it is important, because creative practise and the arts are ways of communicating science in a very universal language. It is essential for people to understand why we’re going to space, what happens in space and what’s the benefit”. This is reflected in much of the imagery produced out of the space age from notable artist such as Don Davis, Pat Rawlings, Robert McCall and Rick Sterback. Today, we experience much of our understanding of space and prospective space missions through artistic representations or digitally rendered images. As Sarah notes, “Art could also be described as incorporating elements of empathy, subjectivity and lateral thinking often in improvisational ways, which might otherwise be excluded from conventional scientific methods”. One element of Sarah’s work which resonates with Myles is revaluing items. She highlights her art ambitions, adding “I’m interested in the ways to which we can reconsider everyday easily accessible materials and repurpose them to improve the fidelity of our analogue space simulations”. In this unique way, Sarah incorporates either discarded items or recycled parts in her work. These objects adapt the perceived view, reinterpreting the objects and materials in a new shape or form for the overall piece.
As part of its future development, Space Health Research plans to design and conduct an analogue simulation encapsulating the entire process of visiting another planet. This will include the journey, landing, planetary exploration and the return journey. Noting it would be a highly complex mission to conduct, Space Health Research are determined in developing analogues missions and site simulations that exhibit practises of realism and fidelity. In addition, the company also envisions future analogue simulation missions to include viable commercial options. These missions would be intended for personal development and could be utilised as training development regimes. These missions unlike the research focused analogue missions, would provide an opportunity for individuals to be part of a unique experience which can be driven by teamwork, self-discovery and whatever specific motivations the customers might have.
For any prospective analogue astronauts or businesses interested, please reach out to Space Health Research at email@example.com.