Earthlings: Humanity’s Essential Relationship with Gravity

Iris Vargas, '08

Iris Vargas, ’08

A realm of serious scientific questions about gravity’s role in biology is being researched in labs around the world, from NASA’s Dryden Research Laboratories in the Mohave Desert, to Japan’s Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo. Space biology research, as the field is often called, involves subjects as seemingly disparate but intrinsically related as hermaphroditic snails, brine shrimp, space chickens developing normally and space frogs growing enormous heads. Not to mention astronauts re-learning to walk on depleted leg bones and individual human cells attempting division with damaged internal structures. The questions asked of all of the subjects overlap: What is the most fundamental level at which life perceives gravity? Which biological processes on Earth have evolved as a result of and depend upon the presence of gravity? What is the smallest organization of life at which the presence and direction of gravity can be detected? For the purpose of space exploration, we might have to take gravity with us wherever we go outside of Earth. Yet after 52 years of space flight, and 47 years of manned missions, we still don’t know what the prescription for gravity would be. Will human beings ever be able to completely escape its pull? Or are we unavoidably Earthlings?

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