Born in space? The shift in the mission’s program

21 August 2019


A follow-up interview with Dr. Egbert Edelbroek – CEO & Founder of SpaceBorn United

In the previous article, we spoke Dr. Edelbroek about the ambitious space missions that his organisation SpaceBorn United is preparing. SpaceBorn United is a biotech and space mission development company. The company wants to contribute to the learning process of human reproduction in space. Currently, when humans are exposed to the many challenges of space, it leaves them unable to reproduce. The mission program is divided into three missions, Ark, Lotus and Cradle. In this article we will dive a little deeper into these missions.

Commercial to research

As earlier mentioned, the initial strategy consists out of three missions, mission Ark, mission Lotus and mission Cradle. After the researchers of SpaceBorn United and the supporting universities and industry partners finished the design and feasibility study of mission Ark, they realised that mission Lotus and mission Cradle had a much stronger research focus instead of a commercial focus. Because the company’s long-term mission requires a strong research focus, they continued to embrace this shift. The biomedical devices that are being developed are also more approached as research platforms, that can also be used to study animal embryo development. SpaceBorn United’s research team has kept expanding and is now exploring collaborations with the interested TU Delft and TU Eindhoven. To complete the research group, they are now looking for a biomedical university as well. Eleven Msc students from Cranfield University already did the pre-research together as their full-time graduation project.

Mission Lotus 2.0

During the initial research, they also found out that the time gap between mission Lotus and mission Cradle was quite big. That is why they are inserting additional mission designs, like mission Lotus 2.0 between the other two missions. In this mission, the researchers are looking at the effects of the decreasing geomagnetic field, beyond low earth orbit. The earth’s surface is protected against different ionising radiation sources by our atmosphere and the geomagnetic field. However, the further away from earth, the less protection there is. NASA, ESA and SpaceX are planning independent human settlements on the moon and Mars, where this protection is absent. That is why they want to test mission Lotus 2.0 within the strong area of the geomagnetic field but more important also in the weaker areas of the geomagnetic field. In that way, they can study to what extent safe embryo development beyond the geomagnetic field is possible. For testing and studying this, the help of space life science department of the Belgium Nuclear Research Centre is enabled. They focus on developing interventions for people like astronauts, who are exposed to high amounts of radiation. Interventions like radiation resistance enhancement treatments, enabling longer safe exposure to radiation.

Another challenge for mission Lotus concerns gravity. It is crucial to find out if the gravity level provided by Mars enables healthy embryo development. Therefore, SpaceBorn United is developing an embryo incubator which generates artificial gravity, so this can be tested. Inside this device the human conception also takes place, which is in fact IVF in space.

Mission Cradle

The researchers of SpaceBorn United dived a little deeper into their mission Cradle as well. Recently Hungarian and US experts in reproduction in extreme environments joined the research team, especially focused at this mission. One of the challenges, for example, is the effect of the air inside of the spacecraft on the lungs of the baby when they take their first breath. Babies are more sensitive to carbon monoxide than adults. They can adjust the levels of gasses in the air in the spacecraft by using specific filters in the climate controls.

Another important challenge which needs to be looked at to make mission Cradle a success, is the absence of gravity when the is spacecraft orbiting earth. Experts explain that gravity is initially not necessary for giving birth on itself. For the mission, only women who already had two labours without any problems can participate. During labour, the muscles do the work. This makes the presence of gravity somewhat less necessary. However, it is a lot easier for the medical staff if there is gravity present. The staff will therefore undergo specific training, to some extent similar to astronaut training under water.

To conclude, the preparations for the mission’s program gets more complete step by step. Will this mean that giving birth will be both possible in space in the future? According to Dr. Edelbroek, there eventually will be a time that mankind not only wants to explore space, but also needs to shift to space. As people cannot live without reproduction, the answer to the question will eventually be yes but a lot of research is still needed.

On August 29, Dr. Edelbroek will host a seminar in Houston where he will tell all the ins and outs of the project. Would you like to join? See the link.

We would like to thank Dr. Egbert Edelbroek for sharing his vision and knowledge. Want to get in touch with Egbert? You can reach him via his LinkedIn or the website.
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