Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 61

Submission from Dr Vishal Nangalia


  (a)  There are innumerable benefits to supporting Human Spaceflight, specifically: Health, Scientific, Economic, Educational and Inspirational. There are significant issues if parliament does not support human spaceflight specifically political, security and a long lasting intellectual brain drain. To support Human spaceflight in the UK a new body or a significant re-organisation of existing research councils need to be carried out as the current institutions are not fit for purpose.


  (a)  Currently a Senior House Officer in Anaesthetics at the North West London Hospitals Trust.

  (b)  Founding member, IT Executive and Webmaster of the UK Space Biomedicine Group (UKSBG).

  (c)  The current President of the Aerospace Medicine Students and Residents Organisation (AMSRO)—The international organisation for all students and residents interested in or engaging in aerospace medicine—a constituent of the Aerospace Medical Association (ASMA—

  (d)  Over 15 years of involvement with human spaceflight both performing research and setting up outreach activities. (Full list of activities and accomplishments available).

  (e)  Leicester Medical School Graduate.

  (f)  I set-up and then undertook the Intercalated BSc in Aerospace Physiology focusing on Space Physiology at Kings College London.

  (g)  International Space University Alumnus.



  3.  Various physiological effects take place during spaceflight. The keys being alterations to the Cardiovascular, Musculoskeletal and Neuro-Vestibular systems. These changes are similar to what happens to the elderly population here on earth examples include strokes, osteoporosis, angina, heart attacks, dizziness, weight loss, immunological impairment. However the key difference is that with the astronaut population the majority of these changes are reversible while in the elderly population these are not. This is the only situation this exists in modern medicine, and provides us with a unique opportunity to understand the mechanism of these changes and more importantly the ways these can be prevented, and reversed.

  4.  This is of paramount importance particularly in the UK with its National Health Service and the Free at the point of Delivery philosophy. Why because, the cost of treating an increasingly elderly population is rising daily and estimates that as the demographics of our country change the stress on the NHS and thus directly on the exchequer will increase. The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) in the United States has identified a list of problems associated with spaceflight and that need to be resolved before a trip to Mars can be made and these correlate with problems in populations on earth that I have already mentioned. Therefore support for research and programmes of space medicine will directly contribute to the health of the UK.

  5.  I myself am involved in systems research looking at the system benefits of hypobaric hypoxia, the design of special pressure suits, identification and training of the skillsets of the future spacesurgeon. All of which have direct earth based applications.

  6.  The astronaut health programmes of NASA and ESA are the gold standard in preventative health medicine. Identifying and mitigating problems in the astronaut population before during and post spaceflight. Supporting human spaceflight in the UK will allow us access to and the capability to expand on these programmes which can then be applied to the UK population supporting the creation of a healthier and thus economically more productive nation.

  7.  Therefore supporting Human spaceflight will support unique research that will enable the NHS to better cope with future demands placed on it, both by enabling better treatment and also by supporting the preventative health effort, which will overall contribute to a healthier and economically stronger nation.


  8.  Human spaceflight is probably the most multidisciplinary speciality that exists today. There is a unique interplay between doctors, life scientists, materials scientists, physicists, Engineers and Astronomers among others. To succeed in the goal of enabling human beings to live and thrive outside of the earth has forced disciplines that previously had no interaction with each other to collaborate to find unique solutions to previously impossible problems. This can be seen throughout the history of human spaceflight. The unique interdisciplinary environment forces each speciality to look at a problem from various points of view. This allows an appreciation of other disciplines but more importantly results in breakthroughs and cross fertilisation of know-how and technology that would not previously have happened. Shape memory alloys used in prosthetic limbs and medical implants, new sensors for blood and gas analysis, lab on a chip, being but a few of the numerous examples.

  9.  Currently I am working on a two medical devices originally conceived for spaceflight but now being developed to apply to earthbound populations. These devices consist of an automatic method of obtaining blood and analysing it that does not require a doctor or nurse present and also a device to automatically collect an ECG trace of the heart again with no skill input required. These were developed because of the constraints of the spaceflight system where there are presently no trained personnel and therefore methods for medical diagnosis and data acquisition needed to be devised. This situation does occur on earth and specifically in the community in the UK, however as research is geared towards hospital based practice there is no incentive to pursue this kind of research normally. However now that the initial development is completed there is a move to utilise it in the health care market allowing patients to be diagnosed and treated outside of hospitals which uniquely fits in with the government agenda in this sphere. However we have still to this date not received a penny of funding from any of the research councils or trusts as we fall between the cracks of their respective research and because of government policy.

  10.  Exploration of the solar system and the search for life on other planets is the holy grail of life science and can be argued that of philosophy and religions as well by answering the question are we alone in the Universe. This can be regarded as akin to the search for the ultimate building block of matter that the UK funds PPARC and is a part of the large Hadron collider for. If we accept that one scientific goal is justifiable then surely the search for life which transcends pure science and goes beyond boundaries and can be understood by the common man is of equal importance if not more. However, currently no support is given to the community trying to answer these questions. The human spaceflight case for the search for life is that The Royal Astronomical Society Report and Steve Squires (the Principal Investigator of the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) that are currently on Mars) both are adamant that Human capability will always be superior to robotic capability alone and the amount of scientific discovery done by both MERs in one yr could have been performed in five minutes by well equipped and trained Astronaut on Mars. Analysis of excursions on the moons surface by Apollo astronauts has also further proved that human beings are indispensable for the exploration of planetary bodies.

  11.  Exploration by Human beings in space and other planets including the moon and mars cannot be quantified in the traditional sense as serendipitous discovery results in new fields of science and discovery that change the face of science and humanity forever. Examples of serendipitous discovery include the discovery of the Medical X-ray properties of Radium by Marie Curie and the antibiotic nature of Penicillin by Alexander Fleming. In fact in the Government's "Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14: Next Steps" Discussion paper, in chapter 2 it states "The Government cannot, and should not attempt to, predict where and in what form these innovations will occur" but should be "Supporting world-class health research" as stated in chapter 5.


  12.  The Space Program has paid for itself. It is a myth that "we can't afford Space". Confirmation that "Space pays" may be found in the 1989 Chapman Research report, which examined just 259 non-space applications of NASA technology during just eight years, 1976-84 (The primary project during these years was the development of the Space Shuttle System—a Human Spaceflight project), and found more than:

    (a)  $21.6 billion in sales and benefits.

    (b)  352,000 (mostly skilled) jobs created or saved.

    (c)  $355 million in federal corporate income taxes.

  13.  Other benefits, not quantified in the study, included: state corporate income taxes, individual personal income taxes (federal and state) paid by those 352,000 workers, and uncalculable benefits resulting from lives saved and an improved quality of life. The 259 applications represent only about 1% of an estimated 25-30,000 Space program spin-offs. The benefits were in addition to benefits in the Space industry itself and in addition to the ordinary multiplied effects of any government spending.

  14.  A short article in the prestigious journal Nature (1/9/92, pp 105-106), reported, "The economic benefits of NASA's programmes are greater than generally realized. The main beneficiaries may not even realize the source of their good fortune." When Space program money was spent, new industries were left behind to generate more money (eg, computers, electronics, fabrics, composites, ceramics, metallurgy). Without the focus of our space goals, such cutting-edge technologies would not have emerged.


  15.  In the present age in the UK where university departments are closing, science based courses are being taken off the curriculum and intake into science fields at university is dropping. Space Biomedical related courses are expanding and being set up going firmly against the trend. I myself helped setup the first one year Aerospace Physiology related BSc at Kings College London back in 1999 and was the first to complete the course. Since then University College London has implemented both a Bachelors and Masters Programme that is underpinned by space medicine. There are modules available at Glasgow University Medical School and Imperial focussing on Space Medicine as well. All these courses are at present increasing their intake year on year showing the education spur that Space Medicine and Human Spaceflight can provide.

  16.  In fact we are the only nation in the World that provides this level of course at undergraduate level and are our postgraduate courses are on par with that provided by NASA sponsored institutions. However this push is being supported by a few dedicated individuals and without formal support and funding this may be jeopardised as these individuals leave the UK for other European countries or the United States where their expertise is recognised and appreciated.


  17.  Human spaceflight has always been looked at with awe and wonder. Most people can remember where they were and what they were doing when they first saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon. The Apollo Soyuz mission was seen as a beacon for hope and peace in the middle of the cold war. Even today whenever a private individual pays 20 million dollars to fly into space every media channel in the UK reports it as major news story. Whenever I chat to students and members of the public about human spaceflight they exhibit a sense of wonder which is only tempered with the false perception that the goal of one day themselves travelling to space is insurmountable. However Apollo has demonstrated that a committed long-term human spaceflight programme can encourage the young to work harder and encourages them to specialise in the science and maths so they can be part of the adventure. The years from the middle of the Apollo programme till a few years after its end showed a significant rise in all PhDs awarded in the United States.

  18.  The dot com boom has also been attributed to the children of Apollo, a new breed of entrepreneurs are spending significant amounts of their own money to develop human spacecraft systems. These include the founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin project, The creator of the Game Doom and his company Armadillo Aerospace, Microsoft co Founder Paul Allen and SpaceShip One, the craft that our own Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic has taken over to develop into the first commercial space tourism spacecraft. Elon Musk (founder of paypal) and his company SpaceX that has been awarded a 300 million dollar contract to develop his Dragon spacecraft for Orbital spaceflight. Mark Shuttleworth, Anousheh Ansari, and the list goes on ... The common thread in all of these peoples lives were there passion for the sciences was triggered by human spaceflight and they then went on to be leaders in their field and have contributed immensely to society and the economy and continue to do so.


Politics and Security

  19.  The United States is forging ahead with its Vision for Space Exploration which calls to establish a permanent outpost on the moon by the end of the next decade and put a man on mars by the end of the decade after that. Russia has similar ambitions. The European Space Agency has its Exploration and Aurora Programme whose goal is to put a Human on Mars by 2030 (the UK only subscribes to the robotic component of this). China has stated its intention of a permanent Manned Space station and also a human outpost on the Moon and India with its independent launch capability is also on the cusp of joining the human spaceflight club, specifically for exploration of the Moon and Mars.

  20.  The existing International Space Station programme consists of The United States, Canada, Brazil, Japan and ESA member states excluding the UK.

  21.  We currently are heavily dependent on our space based assets and as the colonisation of orbital space increases and outposts are established on the moon and mars we will be incapable of maintaining or developing or assets. In the newly published document on US Space Policy is quite aggressive in stating that Control of Space is essential to maintaining its security and it reserves the right to disable any space based assets of countries perceived to be against US interests.

  22.  The UK is the only developed country in the world that does not currently engage in the endeavour of human spaceflight and this is a field that is currently experiencing a boom in terms of funding and awareness. As the years progress and if the UK is not a member of this club we will lack the expertise and the power to influence decisions that are made regarding space based assets and opportunities and this will put us at a disadvantage to all other spacefaring nations, diminishing our influence in world politics.

Brain Drain

  23.  The UK consists of individuals who through no funding have developed a space medicine network that is recognised internationally, myself being the President of AMSRO, Alyson Calder being International Liaison of ASMA and Space Medicine Branch Member at Large along with a multitude of others who are spearheading research into fields of space medicine that even the rest of Europe with its support for Human spaceflight cannot match up to. We have congregated and organised ourselves under the banner of the UK Space Biomedicine Group (UKSBG), our activities include hosting the only Dedicated Space Medicine Conference in the World. However we all hold down full-time jobs and do this in our spare time and every year for every member that joins the group and stays the course there are at least three times as many students who fall by the wayside and return to their normal jobs despite having the potential to excel in this field as we cannot provide any monetary support or even direct them to grant making bodies that they can use as means to progress their development and aid their contribution to the field. I personally know of existing and upcoming researchers who are already planning the move to the US as there is no support for their activities here in the UK. I myself am considering this move due to the frustration of on one hand being told that my research is world class and has significant benefits and on the other that it does not fit with the current funding guidelines. Colleagues of mine have already made the move and as the path of transferring to another country becomes more well trodden there will be no base within the UK to redevelop this speciality and the expertise will be lost to the US and other countries forever, damaging the Government's goal of making the UK a knowledge-based economy.


  24.  The current structure of funding space related projects is broken and haphazard. Every time I attend a meeting with BNSC, PPARC representatives it seems like every scientist and organisation is fighting to maintain its bit of the funding pie and there is absolutely no concern for development of space capability. No organisation wishes to support a new field of discovery such as space medicine or human spaceflight, not because they do not accept the merits of the field but because they are short sighted and guarding their own interests assuming that any funding for a new field will result in a reduction of the funds available to them. This goes against knowledge generation and the present infrastructure of research councils should not be allowed to mismanage the resources of the British exchequer this way.

  25.  The US recognised that research for research's sake leads to nowhere therefore after years of no firm goal, The Vision for Space Exploration was announced whereby the resources of NASA and the country are focused towards achieving the Human return to the Moon and the onward journey to Mars.

  26.  If there is to be a shift in supporting Human Spaceflight and Space Medicine in the UK it should be a goal directed approach under the auspices of a new and independent agency that administers and manages the programme and the funds available. A decision to join forces with either ESA or NASA or go semi independently should be carried out by an independent body of experts so as to obtain maximum value for British investment.

October 2006

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