To read Part I in the “New Frontiers” series by Bruno Villetelle, titled “What Has Technology Done to Better Travel?” click here.
Part II: Interstellar Travel & Digital Health
As someone whose love of digital technology is surpassed by few things, it’s not often that I find myself able to connect that love with something that excites me to as high a degree. I have, however, found such a connection between myself, travel, and digital technology.
And the future of those things excites me a great, great deal.
Some people aren’t excited by travel. Some people don’t have that inherent “wanderlust” that those like myself are born with and develops over time. But regardless of your experiences of stances or passion regarding travel what the future has in store for travel–the new frontiers that the digitization of the world affords us–in the hands of the likes of Elon Musk is a difficult concept to ignore. The future is very, very much on the horizon, and the more we continue to embrace the digital revolution, the further we can push the limits of travel.
People like Elon Musk aren’t just changing the luxuries we are afforded when we travel, he’s on a mission to change every facet of exploration from top to bottom. And from one travel lover to another–I couldn’t be happier.
Musk’s vision of a Hyperloop-laden future has already been touched on in this post, and though it will certainly revolutionize the way we as human beings travel the world, much of the real interest lies in how we’ll travel other worlds.
The future of interstellar travel is quickly becoming the present of interstellar travel. People like Musk have passed through the phase of dreaming about traveling to the moon and begun bringing that dream to reality. His organization SpaceX is hard at work on expanding the current offerings for travel–no more will we have to choose between destinations limited solely to those on the Earth. If SpaceX is successful, interstellar could become a norm–an expensive norm perhaps–but one that is, in our generation, a possibility.
Recently, Musk announced he plans to send two people to the moon by 2018–giving him under two years to put the pieces together and solve the problems that any interstellar traveler is wont to run into.
But rocket science, engineering and design aren’t the only things that complicate the space-faring process. Healthcare–or the lack of it–makes interstellar travel incredibly difficult.
This is where we can introduce digital technologies.
Health complications in space go beyond headaches, bumps and bruises. The radiation an astronaut experiences during spaceflight can wreak havoc on the central nervous system. Studies of astronauts show that they die of cardiovascular disorders at 4 or 5 times the rate of those who haven’t been to deep space.
And the potential health issues certainly don’t end there. Both emergency conditions–such as heart attack or stroke–and nonemergency conditions–space adaptation syndrome being the most common–are nearly inevitable among those enduring space exploration.
As you probably can imagine, there is not an abundance of readily-available and well-stocked healthcare facilities in the vast reaches of space. The galaxy, in its unimaginably infinite size, is not outfitted with hospitals or minute-clinics every few thousand light years. But perhaps digital health can bridge the gap that a lack of hospital beds can leave. So what will the likes of Musk and his newly christened astronauts need out of digital health?
What must happen first is a shift in focus. If an astronaut aboard a shuttle or inhabiting another celestial body were to break his or her arm or suffer a heart attack, treatments could, in theory, be administered. But at the forefront of most every health-conscious individual should not be how we can treat illnesses like these, but how we can prevent them.
Shifting our focus to prevention of illness and other medical maladies means meticulously assessing and monitoring of the crew. This is precisely where digital health technologies can come into play so fruitfully. Wearable technology beyond anything you’d see on a jogger here on Earth can effortlessly monitor and report back on vital signs and any irregularities that can be expected when one is making the transition from Earth to space. Likewise, rigorous assessment via digital health readouts can be (and should be, and of course already are) done prior to jettisoning people into space to ensure that they’re as healthy as can be. These can be executed with the help of existing and burgeoning digital tech, like virtual reality.
While prevention should be at the forefront, treatment remains a necessary component. As any parent could tell you, no matter the precautions taken, people will inevitably get sick or injured. If the care provided to them can be executed digitally, the treatment processes will become exponentially simpler.
The quickest means of digitizing healthcare on other planets will involve bringing the point of care along for the ride. Incredible technology like that in IBM’s Watson has achieved everything from besting past champs on Jeopardy to diagnosing illnesses that had perplexed human doctors. This is the technology of the future–both of healthcare and beyond. Bringing it along to space could streamline the healthcare process for astronauts and perhaps, in our lifetime, moon residents.
We have come too far as a civilization, made too many advancements and knocked down far, far too many roadblocks to stop here. But the potential for in-space health complications makes space travel dangerous–even more so than people already recognize. By advancing our digital technologies even further and pairing them with our affinity for space exploration, we could be putting digital and galactic healthcare into, well, a world of their own.