Motion Sickness and the Space Village Biz Plan

Building a village in space will require lots of R&D. We can attempt to commercialize the results of the R&D to generate revenue to sustain the business until space transportation makes direct construction of the space village feasible. An earlier post discussed indoor agriculture as one potential revenue stream. That, frankly, is the best idea I’ve had so far: it doesn’t require huge amounts of capex, there is a growing market for it, problems to solve, and I’ve already started working with someone in the field who has IP and some experience.

A second potential revenue stream involves an innovative way to treat motion sickness. Almost everyone suffers from motion sickness from time to time. It can be a real problem for regular business travelers or tourists preparing for a big trip (say, on a cruise ship). The solution most doctors recommend is either avoid the trigger (impossible in the examples above), take some medicine, or use a placebo device (like some kind of pill or some weird charm bracelet). These treatments may provide, at best, questionable and temporary relief. Turns out, though, there is a better solution.

motion-sickness-simulator2
Motion sickness training underway.

I’m working on a book about space settlement with Al Globus (to be released in Spring 2018) and in it we discuss research by Dr. Pat Cowings at NASA’s Ames Research Center. In the mid-1990s Dr. Cowings and William Toscano developed autogenic feedback training exercises (AFTE) to control and minimize the impacts of motion sickness for Space Shuttle crews. Subjects underwent twelve 30-minute training sessions. The training involved visual and auditory  feedback as well as and verbal instructions from the trainer. The training sessions were in a rotating chair to induce a feeling of motion sickness. After these sessions – six hours in total – subjects reported far less severe motion sickness symptoms. These benefits were retained for three years after the training.  See the full NASA report here.

 

If these results could be repeated in the general population and the facility somehow commercialized and distributed to medical facilities (maybe even inside drug stores? or on cruise ships?) throughout the world, it could be a viable, and profitable, way to treat motion sickness.

There are even simpler potential treatments. Research in England hints that mild electrical impulses applied to the temple and scalp areas may reduce or eliminate motion sickness. This could be another way to commercialize motion sickness treatments.

What does all this have to do with space villages? Space villages will rotate to simulate

Faster Rotation Means Smaller Settlement Diameter
The smaller the settlement, the faster it must rotate to provide Earth-like gravity. 

the feeling of gravity. Unlike space stations, space villages will provide artificial gravity to aid in sanitation, agriculture and every day life. They will do this via rotation. The space village will be shaped like a donut or a cylinder and it will rotate around its central axis. As a result of centrifugal force caused by rotation, villagers and their stuff will ‘stick’ to the interior wall of the cylinder. Notably there will still be an area of zero gravity at the center of the settlement.

 

The trick, however, is that to make a space village reasonably small (not kilometers wide) and have Earth-like gravity (1g), it must rotate fairly fast – about 4 to 6 revolutions per minute. For comparison, a typical fairgrounds carousel rotates at about 4.3 revolutions per minute. Such a high rate of rotation might cause motion sickness in some villagers, at least for a few days.  While they will almost certainly adapt (per this other set of NASA research) it would be nice to at least offer future villagers a way to mitigate or eliminate any possible motion sickness. Hence the focus on motion sickness treatment.

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