Broadcast 3077 Dr. John Charles

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Guest:  Dr. John Charles;  Topics:  Human space flight and challenging issues, missions to Mars and the Moon, microgravity, radiation, mental issues & more.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website,  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See   

We welcomed Dr. John Charles to the show for this one segment 1 hour 40 minute discussion on the NASA Human Research Program (HRP), human factors, challenges and more.  Dr. Charles recently retired from NASA as the Associate Director of NASA's Human Research Program.  We started our discussion by my asking our guest about the evolution of NASA human research over the nearly 33 years he was with NASA.  We learned that HRP was started in 2005 after the Columbia accident.  Before that, the subject was a mixture of medical research, monitoring, and discovery research.  After Columbia and following budget cuts, human research was repurposed to focus on BELO.  Make sure you hear all of what our guest said about this given these early events focused the human research NASA programs. 

Next, I asked our guest about a list of about 35 priority human factor risk items discussed on an earlier program with ISS Chief Scientist, Dr. Julie Robinson.  Dr. Charles discussed this list and several factors and concerns that were on it.  For a good part of the first hour of our program, we talked about microgravity issues, mitigation strategies, the gravity prescription and related items.  This was an important conversation because as you will hear, NASA believes that their ISS astronaut exercise protocol of 2 hours a day six days a week, including specific exercises and special resistance training for six is sufficient to protect the astronauts.  In further discussion, we learned that when NASA's Bill Gerstenmaier, the current Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations for NASA, was asked about the gravity prescription, according to our guest he has said there was no need to spend resources on the problem since their protocols were working so well and would even work taking astronauts to Mars.  We discussed this quite a bit during our program, even later on referencing an email sent me for the upcoming Sunday program by Dr. Logan saying we needed to get serious about determining the gravity prescription.  Our guest did say no gravity prescription was known for the surface of Mars or the Moon but again, when asking Gerstenmaier about the gravity prescription, he and others say it has been known and validated to be zero g + exercise.  I'm confident this matter will come up on our Sunday program with Dr. Logan, Dan Adamo, and Dr. Jurist so stay tuned for more on this subject.  One thing our guest pointed out was that the microgravity issues were not solved.  If one did not do the mitigation exercise protocol, they would have serious problems from the lack of gravity but as long as the protocols were followed, the effects of microgravity could be managed.

Radiation was a hot discussion topic too. We talked GCR protection, solar storm protection, spaceship storm shelters, lifetime limits, values roughly equal to smoking a pack of cigarettes and more.  Related topics discussed included cognitive system impairment and again, a strong focus on lifetime limits.  Note the 3% added risk factor that our guest talked about regarding radiation. 

Linda in Seattle asked Dr. Charles if he saw any show stoppers among the list of some 35 human factor risk factors.  He said no but listen to all his comments on this subject in reply to Linda.  Dr. Doug sent in a question about doing open ended missions rather than missions on a strict timeline.  BJohn sent in questions about rotating artificial gravity.  This was discussed but our guest did say that rotation might cause other unwanted problems.  He also asked about the Martian moons being a stepping stone to Mars and our guest said yes.  Make sure you hear all of what Dr. Charles said in reply to BJohn's emails.  By the way, BJohn also brought up the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.  We all know BJohn is not supportive of the project but our guest said he did like it. We talked about its mission, unmanned landers to the surface of the Moon and more. 

The subject of space settlement and human factors came up for discussion.  Dr. Charles reminded us that space settlement was not a function of NASA per their charter and Congress.  He said doing the research to support space settlers would be the responsibility of the private companies engaged in space settlement though there would be spillover research due to NASA biology and related studies..  This was an interesting part of our discussion so be sure to hear all of it.

Dr. Doug called us to ask if there might be special exercises the crew could do to reduce a 3 day or so acclimation period inside the Mars lander after landing on Mars to maybe one day.  Dr. Charles shared much information with us on getting the crew to have its "Martian sea legs" so to speak.  Don't miss this conversation.  Doug discussed radiation and GCRs plus later he emailed about the possibility of using a large inflatable habitat on the way to Mars to help reduce the issue of confinement psychology.  Doug discussed bone scans with our guest. Dr. Charles talked about the state of the art for bone scan technology on the ISS, also small MRIs.  As you will hear, what Doug was proposing was not yet technically possible to do in space.

As we neared the end of the program, I asked about the Russian exercise protocols and if their human factors sciences was similar to ours.  Dr. Charles had much to say about Russian protocols and their collection of data which makes it hard to compare with NASA data.  Advanced propulsion and Mars travel times came up and then we spent most of the final minutes talking about mental and psychological issues facing the crew for long duration spaceflight.  I asked our guest about using the Eskimo culture as an analog given our recent Space Show program with Alice Glenn.  Kim got in the phone call wanting to know if virtual reality might help in offsetting the psychological issues.  Our guest said yes, they were exploring that but again, listen to all of what he had to say on the subject.  We concluded our discussion by talking about the international component in BELO missions and what that might mean for the NASA culture.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this program.  You can reach our guest through me.




Retired Chief Scientist for NASA's Human Research Program

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09 Mar 2018 Dr. John B. Charles
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