In the early days of the space race, agency researchers in Russia and at NASA really weren't sure all what would happen to an astronaut in space. They didn't know if a human mind could handle actually seeing Earth or what would happen to the human body when exposed to long periods of weightlessness. Would their blood forget which way to pump? Would their eyeballs shift or their inner ears wig out? They sent up mice and monkeys and dogs, to see what happened, and in 1961, the Russians strapped a man to a rocket headed for orbit. Yuri Gagarin was the first person in space. The ultimate human guinea pig, he survived, becoming an international hero.
In recent years, close study of the aging process has opened up new ways that could help us all live healthier for longer. Can we move beyond treating individual diseases, and instead treat the aging process itself? But would a longer life necessarily be a better life? A loose-knit group of researchers believe the real breakthrough is extending our health span - the period of life spent free of disease.
Our lifespan is increasing by 2.5 years every decade - and a third of all babies born today can expect to live to 100. But living longer can come at a cost. Old age itself brings with it a range of debilitating illnesses, many of which are the result of accumulating damage during our lifetime. Three diseases in particular have become the main killers in the developed world - cancer, heart disease and dementia. But a revolution in bio-medicine is now offering new hope for the treatment of these ailments, and the potential to extend our lives still further. Methods such as gene editing and stem cell therapies are transforming the way medicine can conquer disease today. These extreme frontiers of medicine do, however, also come with a range of ethical dilemmas - when is the right time to try out an experimental technique on a patient? Should we gene edit human embryos? And is it right to use cells from aborted foetuses for medical treatments?
The body's superhuman abilities are most starkly revealed in the area of trauma - one of the world's biggest killers. Medical teams have traditionally tried to reverse the changes which occur when the body goes into trauma, but doctors are now beginning to realise that the changes which occur in the body after an injury such as the loss of blood and severe drops in temperature serve an important purpose in the recovery process.