The Naked Scientists-June 2012

The seventh lecture was with Dr Kevin Fong, who has a background in physics and medicine. He has worked with NASA.


Dr Fong began his lecture by giving a brief biography. This included how he started off with a physics degree before moving into medicine and how the former was a great help with the latter (so if you are think about going into medicine physics isn’t such a bad A level to have). He is a Wellcome trust fellow. He mentioned that medical students don’t like learning physiology as it is like physics.

He continued the lecture by talking about man’s need to explore. He talked about Ferdinand Magellan (the large Megallanic cloud is named after him), who started out from Portugal in 1519 with five ships.


Four ships were lost and three years later only 18 sailors returned. Human space flight also has dangers. What effort is taken to protect astronauts?

Often our scientific discoveries have come about because of war. Ballistic missiles during the Second World War and methods of delivering nuclear bombs resulted in space rockets. The US and Soviet air forces produced astronauts/cosmonauts. Even CERN has its origins in nuclear weapons.

The space race started with the Soviets sending Sputnik into space (the first satellite) and continued with Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova being the first man and woman in space. The US was determined to overtake them and President Kennedy, in 1962, vowed that before 1970 the US would put men on the Moon.

Travelling in space is not comfortable or fun. When the Apollo astronauts returned to Earth the temperature on re-entering the atmosphere rose to 3000 degrees Celsius.

The next big plan is to send astronauts to Mars. The problem is that NASA are really only interested in engineering. Mars has a very low barometrical pressure (<1% Bar) and no plate tectonics. Periodicity is a problem. The astronauts will not experience normal days (their circadian biology would be affected). There are a few trajectory options to Mars but the best one would cause astronauts to spend 1000 days in space. What are the Human responses to weightlessness? Loss of bone, de-tuning of the inner ear, impaired co-ordination, hallucinations, space motion sickness, psychological problems, renal stones in the kidneys, lack of magnesium (affecting the heart). One way round this problem would be to try and produce artificial gravity. The spacecraft also needs to protect the astronauts from ionising radiation. Evidence from the MIR space program, Human adaption and countermeasures group at the NASA Johnson Space Center and cosmonaut experiments shows that one day for every month in space is needed for recuperation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s