Apr 12

Analogue Research for Disaster Risk and Humanitarianism in Space Exploration

The 12th of April has been named the International Day of Human Spaceflight by the United Nations out of celebration for the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961. In recognition of this date, University College London’s Institute for Risk and Disaster (IRDR) Space Health Risks Research Group will soon be announcing a pilot analogue mission and accompanying research symposium focused on health in space and disaster risk reduction. Myles Harris, UK Analogue Mission’s (UKAM) Head of Research, is a coordinator of the research group. Through the number of upcoming human space exploration missions, humans will be spending more time away from Earth. As the time humans spend in space increases, so do the chances of on-mission disasters occurring. Since the risk of disasters occurring in space can never fully be mitigated, strategic and well-defined relief efforts are essential to ensure human well-being in off-Earth environments. 

To work toward this goal of developing in-space relief and support, the pilot analogue is set to take place in Spring 2022 in the mountains of the Cairngorm National Park in Scotland, to replicate both lunar and Martian environments. Analogue astronauts will experience similarly limited resources and external accessibility that are commonly found in space and will evaluate the feasibility of three simulated in-space scenarios for human healthcare. This pilot analogue aims to not only inform healthcare and safety practices in remote regions on Earth, but to analyse the results and findings of the research symposium for deep space healthcare and disaster risk reduction applications. 

The symposium will precede the analogue mission and will take an interdisciplinary focus on how deep space healthcare practices can inform disaster risk reduction and remote healthcare operations on Earth. Facilitated by members of the IRDR Space Health Risks Research Group, the symposium will consist of informal discussions focused on the areas of space medicine, public health, nursing and allied health, anthropology, and disaster sciences. The aim of the symposium is to establish a multidisciplinary consensus on prolonged, holistic healthcare provisions to further develop interdisciplinary healthcare approaches in space, to reduce inequalities in healthcare provisions for remote areas on Earth, and to highlight gaps and unmet needs for future research. 

Additionally, the pilot analogue and research symposium aim to help establish the foundation for developing methodologies to deal with not only health-related emergencies in space, but disasters as well. In parallel to this, the findings from the analogue research will inform advances in humanitarian relief that have largely remained unchanged for the past 40+ years, where space humanitarianism can be linked to the adage of “prevention is better than care”. Such an approach to in-space humanitarianism would touch upon the four key principles of disaster relief – health, privacy and dignity, security, and livelihood support – and adapt them to apply to in-space environments whether for spacecraft in the vacuum of space or for established settlements on planetary bodies. 

This pilot analogue and accompanying research symposium will be based in the UK. UKAM is an industry partner to the IRDR Space Health Risks Research Group and is working alongside the group as part of the pilot analogue mission and symposium steering group. UKAM will be offering general guidance and advice to the steering group on the overarching mission and is interested in the outcomes of the research, as we continue planning for a high-fidelity analogue mission on UK soil, the first of its kind.

For more information, explore the following two articles written by Myles Harris for the UCL IRDR blog titled ‘Space Health and Disaster Risk Reduction’ and Ilan Kelman for Psychology Today, titled ‘Outer Space Humanitarianism’.

Space Health and Disaster Risk Reduction
Myles Harris, UCL IRDR
Outer Space Humanitarianism
Ilan Kelman Ph.D., Psychology Today

– Evan Cook

About the Author:

Evan is an award-winning author, playwright, and filmmaker, currently working as a content writer and journalist at Design & Data in Cologne, Germany. He holds a master’s degree in space science from the International Space University, a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Surrey, and a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and creative writing from the University of South Carolina – Aiken.

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