Living vicariously through a robot on Mars seems glamorous, and in many ways it is, zapping rocks and scooping up sand and whatnot. But the schedule is brutal--Mars has a longer day than Earth, and this is legendarily painful for everyone involved in a mission on that world. Now a new study says it's possible to adjust, however, resetting our Earthbound circadian rhythms to follow the cycle of Mars instead of our home planet.
The innate human biological clock is not a perfect 24 hours, but rather about 24 hours and 12 minutes--not too short of a Martian sol, which rings in at 24 hours and 39 minutes. But our clocks reset daily according to Earth's light-dark cycle, which keeps us on track, said Steven Lockley, associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "Our body clocks have not evolved to live on a Martian day, and when we try to force them to do so, it's very difficult for our body clocks to reset each day," he said.
This is a major problem and active area of research for space travel. Astronauts on the International Space Station (and formerly on the space shuttles) have a hard time sleeping, too, largely related to the 90-minute window between each sunrise and sunset. Sleep medications are the most widely used medications in space, Lockley said.
Incidentally, this is also a problem for blind people, who frequently suffer from sleep disorders related to their lack of light perception. "In some of the totally blind people I study, their body clocks are much closer to a Martian day, and in fact they would find it much easier to live on this schedule--but sighted people cannot," Lockley said.
In a study being published this month, Lockley and several colleagues report that it's possible but tricky to reprogram our clocks. The key is the proper combination of light, caffeine and drugs--and realizing that you can't just get up and deal with exhaustion, he said.
"You often hear things like 'Sleep is for wimps,' 'You can sleep when you're dead,'" he said. "It's seen as a rite of passage in some professions to work 20 hour days. As a society, we don't value sleep enough. People will say, 'I'm fine, I'm made of good stuff, I'll be able to push my way through.'"
The team studied members of the Mars Phoenix mission, which operated a lander near the frigid north pole back in 2008. Light is the strongest time cue, so the experiment used light to re-train the team's body clocks. In 2006, scientists recognized a new photoreceptor set in mammal eyes, which detects light at the blue end of the spectrum to help calculate time. The set is located in ganglion cells in the front of the retina, and is separate from the familiar rods and cones in the back, which we use to see.
Lockley and colleagues wanted to stimulate this photoreception system, so participants each got a box with 276 blue LEDs inside it, complete with a 20-inch piece of string so they knew how far away it should sit. They turned it on during their shifts--which may have happened in Earthly daylight or in the middle of the night, depending on the day. "It's like traveling three time zones west every two days. It essentially creates a jet lag," Lockley explained.
The team members also got a crash course in how to crash properly--when to use caffeine and when to stop so it clears the system by bedtime; how to properly arrange a dark and comfy bedroom; and a "recognition that people are not superhuman," Lockley said. If team members were tired, they were supposed to report to a higher-up and find someone to help. The participants also had to give urine samples so the team could check for metabolites indicating the circadian rhythm, and wore wrist-mounted motion- and light-trackers to monitor their light exposure and sleep cycles.
Along with helping Mars scientists sleep better, a Mars-synchronization program could help prevent accidents, Lockley believes.
"We spend a lot of money and effort planning the equipment, the communications, all the technical aspects of a mission, but we don't seem to invest as much in the human factors," he said. "We need to have a more open and more honest discussion about fatigue, and this will become more important if we ever develop a manned mission to Mars."
The study appears in the October issue of the journal Sleep.
The convenient thing about this is that if we are ever to colonize Mars, the whole process will occur automatically.
I believe the idea is they can be well adjusted to the cycle before they arrive. This way they can get over the jet lag in the weeks/months of travel to Mars. So they can hit the ground running, so to speak.
I Guess I am confused...or maybe I just am able to sleep really well because I recently switched from a 5am -1:30 pm to a 4:00pm to 12:30 AM and I had no problem adjusting my sleep. I actually don't go to bed to after 6 AM when the sun is out and I leave my blinds open so the sun is blasting through. Maybe I am just extra awesome at sleeping.
Just ask any service member how they dealt with the check-in day of boot camp where they were forced to stay awake for 30+ hours or how they dealt with switching from day to night shift on the watch in the middle of a war? Adding .6 hours to a day would not be so difficult that it required anything other than a clock that told the time correctly. Pretty crazy to think that someone is spending money on this oh so obviously not an issue, issue. Someone is getting screwed on this deal and someone is getting a free ride.
This is all very interesting but I find it assinine to think that humans will ever colonize Mars. Mars has no magnetic field to speak of. Without a magnetic field there is no protection against the solar wind. That is why Mars has already lost most of its atmosphere and it can't gain one back without that magnetic field. Unless a planetary magnetosphere can be generated, the long term prospects of colonization are downright silly and I don't see anyone working on a solution to that problem.
IMO robotic exploration/development of Mars is a worthwhile endeavor. Colonization, on the other hand, is a pipe dream being sold by snake oil salesmen.
Expending money and effort to solve such incidental issues about humans living on Mars completely misses the point. Mars is a miserable place and no one would want to live there for long. You could not even venture outside without life support, so who cares about biological clocks or a good night's sleep?
Mars will be colonized, and its not if but when.
Some theories about restarting the core involve:
Orbital bombardment with magnetic metals (strategically) , so that they can be rearranged into grids to artifically generate permanent magnetic fields. (also including asteroid mining waste like water, plus its easier to refine and live on a planet then it is in space.
Drilling and insertion of radioactive material inside the core of mars. (if possible) The idea is to restart the reactions in the core, possibly through induction if physical methods dont work. (the HAARP scalar array would work, and the technology allready exists, for those of you that think this is science fiction. Look up jules verne and the name of the first nuclear powered submarine.)
My guess is that mars will be a mining planet, being closer to the asteroid belt.
I just find it odd that the martian day is so close to our own, its almost like it was planned.
No one said it so I will. Fracking BLINDFOLDS!!
If sunrise is the problem then block the light. Then you can synchronize much easier.
I bet the Russians don't have this problem.
So our natural "built in" clocks want to follow the Martian cycle... wonder why that is? Could it be that we really are the hybrid remains of the Martian civilization... I mean really, we are the only creature on this planet that isn't totally in sync with this planets cycles... Blind people who have no visual day/night cues fall directly into the Martian time line, Maybe someday it will come to light that the reason Darwin's Evolutionary Theory works every other creature on Earth except humans, and with us, it worked for a large section of history, there was a major jump which still to this day cannot be explained, then it starts working again. Why is the Bible correct when Sumerians have written it down clear as day that we were modified by "the gods"... How much more evidence do we really need?
Playing Devil's Advocate since 1978
"The only constant in the universe is change"
-Heraclitus of Ephesus 535 BC - 475 BC
couldn't have said it better.
"You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." -Morpheus