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Sky’s the Limit for Research into Space Travel, says NASA Astronaut


It takes more than rocket science to send people into deep space. It also takes insight into how people can weather such an extreme voyage—insight that’s valuable for all of humanity, not just astronauts.

That was the message during a March 4 talk at Fordham by Dr. Yvonne Cagle, a NASA astronaut who called on Fordham faculty and students to help answer the many research questions related to deep space exploration and colonization.

“There are so many spinoff areas of research,” said Cagle, a scientist, medical doctor, retired Air Force colonel, and visiting professor involved in a research collaborative between Fordham and NASA.

As an example, she noted the parallels between reconditioning the body after disease, injury, or illness and mitigating the effects of extraterrestrial jaunts measured in years rather than weeks.

In the absence of gravity, “the heart starts to decondition, your exercise tolerance goes down, your bones demineralize, your muscles start to atrophy,” she said. “Human physiology in space is very different than what we see here on earth.”

And then there’s human behavior, with its fractious side.

“Whatever man’s inhumanity to man that we are struggling with here, it’s not something we are going to be able to escape just because we stepped off-planet. Guess what? We’re probably going to bring that along with us,” she said. “So it behooves us to start looking and trying to reconcile those issues before we go off-planet, and there’s a good chance that what we solve or what we experience off-planet may be its own demonstration platform in teaching moments for us here, on earth, to learn a better way to love and care for each other.”

“Who better than Fordham University to lead that effort and that conversation,” she said, with its “long and illustrious history … [of]waving the banner and raising the bar for social justice, for harmonious community, and for civic responsibility.”

Cagle joined with Fordham last year to launch the Interdisciplinary Collaborative on Health, Environment, and Human Performance, which promotes research involving Fordham, NASA, and other institutions. The collaborative operates under the auspices of Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service (GSS).

Her talk was part of a panel discussion organized by GSS, the Office of Research, and Fordham’s Clare Boothe Luce Program, which works for greater participation by women in the sciences and engineering. The panel comprised professors of psychology, chemistry, biology, mathematics, biochemistry, and computer and information science—all of them women—who answered questions about how they built their careers.

During her talk, Cagle told a personal story about the first moon landing in 1969. She was impressed by the men who made the trip, but also by the woman, Katherine Johnson, who devised the mathematical calculations that their voyage depended on.

She ended with a call for Fordham’s professors and students to reach out to the research community that has sprung up around deep space travel.

“There are so many ways that we can bridge and interface and interact and connect, in ways that are already funded and resourced, in ways that can lead to panels, publications, posters, presentations, even grant applications,” she said. “The sky is no longer the limit, and possibility is endless.”


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