Insomnia and sleep deprivation on Earth can be annoying, but in space it can be life-threatening. That's why NASA has launched a plan to replace the fluorescent lights on the U.S. section of the International Space Station (ISS) with solid-state lighting modules.
These new systems will be made up of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that can transition between red, white and blue hues. While those colors happen to match the American flag, the idea behind this move is less patriotic and more about helping astronauts get adequate sleep while on extended missions in space.
"The effects of insomnia, such as irritation and depression, not to mention the tendency to make mistakes, are extremely dangerous in the space station, due to its closed and pressurized quarters," reads an article for Ubergizmo.
A NASA study conducted in 2001 showed that roughly 50 percent of astronauts had to take sleeping pills while in space. But, these new LEDs will help them get some much-needed shuteye by mimicking the different times of day we experience here on Earth. Blue, for example, is supposed to promote energy and represent daytime, while red signals the transition from day to evening and helps them fall asleep.
According to NASA officials, the new lighting system will be tested in 2016 and will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $11.2 million to install on the ISS. LEDs require state of the art thermal management technologies in order to run properly without overheating. Getting a replacement while in space is obviously more complicated than it would be on Earth, so these systems must be meticulously designed.
If executed properly, American astronauts will be better equipped to deal with the rigors of long-term space deployments.