Interview on 23 December 2003 with Prof. Rupert Gerzer, Director of the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Cologne-Porz.
Question: Prof. Gerzer, for many years you have been studying the medical issues which could have an impact on a potential manned flight to Mars. In your opinion, how realistic is the idea of a manned flight to Mars? Is the idea already on the drawing board?
Prof. Gerzer: We have a long way to go before we can make manned flights to Mars. But space agencies and scientists around the world are already working on the idea, in some cases very intensively.
There is a range of medical and psychological issues that need to be resolved and a set of safety issues that need to be addressed before such a flight could be successful. We’re also concerned with the question of what a lunar or Martian station should be like, one which would not need to receive constant supplies from Earth but which could exist autonomously by recycling the resources taken with it and in which humans could live for months or years at a time.
Question: What would be the benefits of this to us here on Earth?
Prof. Gerzer: Interestingly enough, questions like these, which look at how such ‘autonomous bioregenerative life support systems’ could work, are some of the key issues surrounding the sustainable protection of our own planet. So at DLR, when preparing the ground for studying these issues, we join forces with scientists who are studying the problems of today such as waste water treatment, the use and storage of solar energy, the avoidance and biological regeneration of waste, and low-resource food production. In a society where people live longer into old age, this also includes medical issues such as rehabilitation, the avoidance of osteoporosis and strengthening the body’s own defences against cancer.
Question: Where is the focus of your research? O Earth or in space?
Prof. Gerzer: At the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at DLR, the strategy we pursue is to find solutions today to questions that are important both on Earth and for manned spaceflight, so that tomorrow we can expand the horizons of what is possible for humankind and come closer to realising our visions of the future of manned spaceflight.
Question: And what does the near future hold as far as space is concerned?
Prof Gerzer: : Personally, I hope that we can make a small contribution at least to seeing people return to the moon within the next couple of decades.
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