Keeping House in Outer Space

THE engineering problems in designing a vehicle and a power plant to carry men into space are formidable. They are matched by the problems involved in what might be called the housekeeping aspects of space travel.

To keep the crew of a spaceship fed and in good physical and mental health will require the development of wholly new techniques in many fields. This is particularly true of vehicles that are to make long voyages to other planets — or to leave our solar system entirely.

WEIGHTLESSNESS, Whenever the propulsion system is turned off, the crew and everything else aboard the space vehicle will be completely without weight. Although individuals have undergone very short periods of gravity loss without apparent ill effects, we still know very little about what this phenomenon will mean in space travel. Certainly many common movements will become difficult. Gravity plays a considerable part in the mechanism by which the individual perceives his body’s position in space. With gravity removed, the eyes will have to take over this function.

OXYGEN SUPPLY. Every crewman will require 500 liters of oxygen every 24 hours — too much to be carried on any but the shortest trips. Since plants release oxygen, one answer might be to carry along a batch of the tiny water-borne plants called algae: 2.3 kilograms of Alga Chlorella pyre noidosa produce enough oxygen to supply one man. Plants require light energy for carrying out their metabolic processes, however; so artificial sources of radiant energy will have to be carried aboard the vehicle for flights outside the solar system. This presumably will increase the demand on the vehicle’s power plant.

CARBON DIOXIDE DISPOSAL. With every breath man expels carbon dioxide, which must he removed from the air within the vehicle. Since plants consume carbon dioxide, the same algae might take care of this problem.

WATER VAPOR CONTROL. The crew will also release considerable water into the atmosphere of the vehicle through their perspiration and breath. A humidity control system will be needed to keep the vapor content of the air within the limits of comfort.

WASTE PRODUCT DISPOSAL. The vehicle will be sealed so nothing can be expelled. Human wastes will have to be treated by bacteria in a closed sewage system.

WATER SUPPLY. Water used for human or other purposes on the ship will have to be recovered, cleaned, and reused over and over again.

FOOD. For a space voyage of any length the crew will have to produce their own food as they go along. Here again the useful little algae offer one solution. The same Chlorella pyrenoidosa is highly nutritious and can be made to produce either a high concentration of fats or a high concentration of protein.

TEMPERATURE CONTROL. The cold in outer space will be intense, particularly outside of the solar system. An insulation system of extreme efficiency will be needed to minimize loss of heat through the vehicle’s shell. Probably double hulls, one within the other, will be required. Whatever heat is lost will have to be replaced by a heating system.

LIGHT. Traveling within the solar system but outside the earth’s atmosphere, the crew will find everything in sunlight cruelly bright, everything in shadow in inky darkness. The sharp contrast will present visual adaptation problems to space travelers. At the same time they will have to be careful to avoid looking directly at the sun for fear of retinal burn, since the sun is far more dangerous when not filtered through the atmosphere. All observation ports will have to be equipped with light filters.

DAY-NIGHT CYCLE. Since there will be no normal succession of day and night, the crew will have to adjust to an artificial cycle for work, recreation, and sleep. Laboratory experiments have shown that the body can adapt to a cycle ranging from 18 to 28 hours.

COMPANIONSHIP. Choosing and matching the individuals who will make up the space crews, which will be completely isolated from all other human contact for months or years, will be a vital problem. Studies made by the armed forces for selecting men for isolated outposts give some clues to possible approaches. Groups of two have been found to develop extreme friction. Groups of four or more tend to break up into two groups and again friction develops. Three-person units are considered preferable since each individual is considerate of the others lest they combine against him. Space crews might be broken up into three groups of three individuals with rotation of individuals from group to group.



As aircraft and guided missiles go faster and faster, our warning system must detect an approaching enemy at ever greater distances if there is to be time for countermeasures. That means longer range for our radar. One way to achieve this is to increase the power of the radar signal.

A new radar tube brought out this year by Raytheon, called the amplitron, increases the energy output of the basic signal eight to fourteen times. The amplitron has a peak power equal to that needed to light a city of 200,000 people, but is only one quarter as big as earlier tubes producing the same signal power and requires less than half the voltage. Its comparatively small size and light weight make it possible to develop special purpose radars to be carried by planes and missiles.

Boosting power presents great problems to the radar engineer. Doubling the range at which an aircraft can be spotted takes sixteen times the signal strength. To multiply the range by 10, the power would have to be multiplied by 10,000. That is why a new device developed at Columbia University is described by experts as the greatest advance in radar since the start of World War II: it increases the effective range of a radar set to an unprecedentedly high level without increasing the power demand.

Called “signal enhancement,” the Columbia system improves both the signal and its reception. A unique transmitter sends a carefully controlled signal with characteristics that make it easy to identify when it is bounced back off the target. At the receiver, an echo so weak that it would be lost in static in the ordinary radar receiver is made to “stand still” momentarily. The receiver can then separate it from the atmospheric static and use it to determine the distance and direction of the target.

The degree of improvement in range thus achieved has not been revealed, but the device is described by Dean John R. Dunning of the Columbia School of Engineering as “a first-rate breakthrough that seems to alter the entire concept of how we arc going to communicate over long distances and out in space.” It not only increases the distance at which an enemy vehicle or missile can be detected, but its greater sensitivity makes it possible to pick up weak echoes from jet aircraft and guided missiles, which are much poorer reflectors of radar than older types of aircraft.


A special computer just announced by Ramo-Woolridge is designed to take over completely the operation of any continuous-process plant. When all the variables are fed into it, the computer element determines the proper output signals needed to control the process. It is intended specifically for oil refining, chemical processing, distillation, or any other continuous industrial operation.

Meanwhile M.I.T. engineers are studying the role of the computer in making management decisions. Financed by a Ford Foundation grant, the School of Industrial Management is experimenting with an I.B.M. computer to see if it can coördinate all the varied bits of information now divided up in separate departments of a big industrial concern. The M.I.T. researchers simulate the flow of such data as the availability of capital and raw materials, the movement of partly finished products from division to division, sales demand, competitive activities, and new processes. They hope to learn how to program the computer so it can juggle all this mass of information and come up with an analysis of its effect on the company.


The exact relation between a high level of the fat-like substance called cholesterol in the blood stream and the occurrence of heart attacks is still not entirely clear. But heart researchers all over the world think it worth while to study the effects of various factors on cholesterol levels.

Now Pfizer has developed a drug specifically designed to lower the cholesterol level in cardiovascular patients. Paradoxically, the new blood-fat fighter is a fat itself — an essential fatty acid called lineolic acid. It is combined with the vitamin pyridoxine in an emulsion that the manufacturer has named Linodoxine.

Used experimentally on patients suffering from cardiovascular disease as well as on others who showed no signs of such disease, Linodoxine lowered the blood cholesterol level in nearly every case. The percentage drop was sharper in those who were suffering from angina (impeded flow of blood through the coronary arteries) or who had experienced blockage of a coronary artery, such as the one that President Eisenhower had in the fall of 1955. When the medication was stopped for two or three days, cholesterol levels promptly rose.


The sensitive independent suspension systems of the front wheels of modern cars make it a tricky business to keep these wheels in balance, and periodical readjustment is usually necessary. The Fisk company claims that its new Safti-Flight tire is permanently balanced by a thin strip of dense rubber vulcanized completely around the inside of the casing. The manufacturer says the tire will not vibrate even at high speed, and will give longer tread wear, easier steering, and a quieter ride,


Farm scientists at the University of Rhode Island have found that you get more milk per acre when you take the grass to the cows than when you take the cows to the grass. Using a technique called soilage, or zero pasture, they cut the grass in the pasture twice a day, chop it up, and carry it to the cows in a feed lot. Zero pasture eliminates losses of forage caused by trampling, plant selectivity, and manure droppings.

The farmer must spend over two hours a day in mowing, chopping, and hauling grass for the cows; but in the three-year test, the soilage group produced over 40 per cent more milk per acre than pasture-fed cows did.


Scientists at Washington State College are bombarding hard-shelled seeds like sugar peas and alfalfa with high-frequency waves. The radiocracked seeds sprout faster and the plants all mature at the same time.