We know that it is possible for humans to stay physically in shape during long term space missions (see for example Valeri Polyakov who stayed on Mir for more than 14 months for one trip). However, the challenges of manned space exploration are different and would include even longer durations.

Reducing the need of the constant physical training required by the Zero-G environment could help to make manned exploration missions more viable. This could be achieved by artificial gravity.

Is artificial gravity feasible today? Would it indeed help to make manned exploration viable?

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    Artificial gravity isn't a thing, anything with mass exerts a pull on another object that we call gravity. The weightlessness is because there is no contact force pushing on them like we have on earth. wired.com/wiredscience/2013/06/… Though a spinning spacecraft might achieve what you want – RhysW Jul 17 '13 at 20:04
  • Masses don't pull on one another, they curve space-time, and objects follow the shortest path along the curve. – Don Branson Jul 19 '13 at 14:43
  • Having said that, "artificial gravity" usually refers to techniques that create that same curve, and that's not currently feasible. – Don Branson Jul 19 '13 at 14:46
up vote 14 down vote accepted

"Artificial" gravity is the name given to techniques to create acceleration that mimics gravitational force. There are two major ways to do this -- both of which are very feasible:

  1. Rotation -- in this case, the acceleration is created by centripetal force. The rotating structure accelerates the crew by forcing them to follow a curved (usually circular) path. This is usually depicted as a rotating torus, but is probably easier to do with a crew compartment tethered to a counterweight spinning about their combined center of gravity.
  2. Continuous acceleration -- in this case, the vehicle is undergoing constant thrust, which accelerates the crew and gives the impression of gravity. This is probably only practical for very long (interstellar?) missions and in fact is probably a beneficial side effect of the propulsion required.

Both of these methods probably improve the long term environment for the crew, but do add significant complexities to the spacecraft.

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    +1. Note that the "rotation" option has side effects, like the Coriolis effect. This makes this option "something to get used to" for the astronauts. The larger the radius though, the weaker the side effects. – Rody Oldenhuis Jul 17 '13 at 21:49
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    Good point @RodyOldenhuis. That's one of the reasons the tether is a more likely implementation than a torus. Building a torus with a large radius become prohibitive much quicker than a tethered system with the same radius. – Erik Jul 17 '13 at 21:55

Assuming a sufficient budget, a spin-habitat is a highly viable option. To maintain 1G and an acceptable ≤2 RPM rotation, one needs a radius of 223m or so.

Given human needs, a torus of 5m habitat tube at 223m median radius, with a pair of 1mm steel hull shells, is a mass of about 55 cubic meters of steel or about 300 metric tons, just for a fairly thin structural torus. Adding additional support structure should at least double that mass. That's the prohibitive expense.

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In manned long-term space exploration, where your objective is interstellar, and your time frame is within a single human lifetime. Lack of simulated gravity is not the problem, rather it is the limiting factor for transit time.

Assuming sufficient propulsion (i.e. Bussard ramjet) the ship would accelerate at 1 gravity until half way to the destination, then at the halfway point, turn around and decelerate for the other half of the journey. Other then a brief period of zero gee at turn over, the content acceleration would provide "artificial gravity".

You can only accelerate so fast without squishing your ships occupants. So being limited to a single gravity for acceleration is one of the key limiting factors in getting very far in a human lifetime.

  • 1 g if the occupants are working and 2 g when they are resting or sleeping seems possible. 1.5 g may be possible for light work. – Uwe Sep 14 '16 at 11:01

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