MSc Space Physiology & Health; Human Performance Intern, McLaren Applied Technologies
With international space agencies and the real-life Tony Stark (Elon Musk) making huge advances in rocket technology, it is likely that within the next couple of decades humankind will touch down on Mars. However, this is only half the battle. The gravity on Mars is roughly one third as strong as Earth’s. You may be thinking “great, everything will require less effort”, and you’d be right, however, there is a huge caveat to that. As we’ve found from the results of time spent in space (the longest continuous period being 14.4 months), when people are exposed to levels of gravity lower than that on Earth, losses in muscle and bone occur; predominantly, in muscles which we continually use to walk and maintain our posture. You may have heard the expression ‘use it or lose it’ - hugely applicable here. These losses can increase astronauts’ risk of injury when returning to Earth by leaving them very weak and fragile. A return mission to Mars will take around 3 YEARS to complete, mainly because of the wait for the two planets to be close enough in proximity again to allow a relatively short journey home. That’s around 12 months in microgravity and around 26 months in Martian gravity. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that, based on the numbers, the outlook for muscle retention isn’t great. That being said, we‘re still pretty uninformed about the extent to which living on Mars will stimulate our muscles.
Recently, my colleagues and I conducted an investigation to try to shed some light on the matter. To do this properly, we needed to achieve two key things: 1) simulate walking in Mars gravity, 2) measure the activity in the muscles used for walking. With this, we compared the muscle activity produced while walking on Mars to that produced when walking on Earth, gauging the degree of muscle loss that we might expect for a mission to Mars and to inform countermeasures.
To simulate Mars gravity, we used a technique called lower body positive pressure (LBPP). There are a few different ways in which you can simulate partial gravity environments, but this one has fewer limitations than the rest. LBPP involves putting someone inside an air-tight inflatable box from the waist down. Through manipulation of the air pressure within, it can generate a lifting force, changing the weight of the person inside. Our device was designed and built by engineers at the John Ernsting Aerospace Physiology Laboratory at the Pontificia Universidade do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. With a treadmill placed underneath, the participant could then walk in simulated Mars gravity. To measure the amount of activity inside the leg muscles, we then attached electrodes to the skin at each of the muscles we were interested in (a method called electromyography) which picked up an electrical signal that muscles give off when they are being worked. The more intense the signal, the more active that muscle is while walking.
What we found was quite unexpected. The results of our investigation suggested that there was no significant difference between the muscle activity observed while walking in Mars gravity and the muscle activity observed walking on Earth. If this were to be true, then it would not be foolish to think that we could use the 26 months on the Martian surface to reverse losses in muscle and bone suffered on the outward journey in preparation for the return trip. However, there were two important variables that we failed to account for in our experiment. These variables were stride length and stride frequency when walking.
The moon is smaller than Mars, and so there is even less gravity there, but the same principle applies. With this in mind, even if the results of our experiment were to be true and the walking muscles are getting just as much activity with each step on Mars as they are on Earth, theoretically, they will be used less often. Considering our ‘use it or lose it’ principle, this would still mean muscle and bone loss to a disabling degree in the absence of effective counter strategies; which are currently lacking. More studies need to be done around this area, accounting for all variables, to further our understanding of human performance on Mars and ensure the safety of our astronauts, or we’ll be keeping Elon Musk waiting at the launch pad!
Dr Andrew Winnard
Lecturer in Clinical/Musculoskeletal Biomechanics; Lead for the Aerospace Medicine Systematic Review Group; Chartered Physiotherapist; Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Northumbria University
This was a question that the European Astronaut Centre space medicine office asked the Aerospace Medicine Systematic Review Group (AMSRG). With space agencies planning missions beyond low Earth orbit, in spacecraft that might not be as easy to exercise inside as the International Space Station, this question is becoming more relevant. While it is clear that countermeasures are needed to maintain muscle during microgravity exposure, there were questions such as ‘should we really be going to the Moon without exercising?’; ‘can we safely have pauses in countermeasures during Earth-Mars transits?’; and ultimately ‘how long can humans go in microgravity, without exercising, before the muscles seriously decondition?’.
There appeared to be some information available in the research base but no clear and transparent synthesis existed on which to make evidence based medical decisions. The AMSRG, led by Prof Nick Caplan, Dr Rochelle Velho and myself, based at Northumbria University’s Aerospace Medicine and Rehabilitation Laboratory, is all about working with spaceflight operations to provide high quality, evidence based medical guidance and, therefore, we took these questions on readily. It was determined that if data from inactive/no intervention control groups within any study done with astronauts or bed rest participants could be extracted, it would provide the evidence based information on which to inform the questions being asked. The team worked for almost two years, screening 754 potential studies, before extracting data from control groups of 75 individual included sources, to calculate 922 individual effect sizes, making this the largest review the AMSRG has conducted to date. All the included studies were from bed rest, ranging from 60-120 days, with mostly high risk of bias (using Cochrane’s risk of bias tool) and typically scoring 4 out of 8 for bed rest quality (using AMSRG’s bed rest quality tool). Across all the studies the team found that moderate deconditioning effects (effect size ≥0.6) occur between 7-15 days, with large deconditioning effects (effect size ≥1.2) occurring by 28 days.
Based on this, it seems that a 5 day Earth-Lunar transit period is probably safe to complete without exercise, at least for the skeletal muscle outcomes. However a Mars transit, that is likely to be 200+days, needs to counteract muscle deconditioning if the crew is to arrive and be able to function in a gravity loaded environment. Additional consideration was given to ‘worst case scenarios’, such as if there were a crew member more susceptible to low gravity induced muscle changes, for which the team used the most extreme negative end of the confidence intervals as a model. In these cases, a large deconditioning effect could be reached by 7 days and then even the travel time to the Moon could potentially become problematic. However, this model is rather crude due to large confidence intervals caused by the typical low sample sizes in human spaceflight research, and individual effects are difficult to determine in a way that is easily transferable to astronauts. Over the whole evidence base, there was great variety in outcome measures and time points evaluated across studies, along with limited data for all outcome measure subgroups, with research gaps highlighted in the published review’s results tables. No patient reported outcome measures of minimal clinical worthwhile changes were established that would help provide a more patient-centred approach to space medicine. This has been a common finding in AMSRG reviews. While space agencies require astronaut simulating bed rest studies to be done to set standards, it might be useful to try and establish a list of core outcome measures that would benefit human spaceflight operations, to become a foundation for patient-centred space medicine and to standardise the data presented to the field as a whole.
Dr Joaquim Ignácio S da Mota Neto / Dr Thais Russomano
Psychiatrist, Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil / Founder & Scientific Director, InnovaSpace
The brain is the prime and most complex organ of the human body and within it takes place the sophisticated phenomena that define us as human beings, enabling recognition of and interaction with our surroundings. Basic and primitive survival functions pass through the different formations and axes of the Central and Peripheral Nervous System, but far beyond this are the many other functions that differ in complexity and high degree of neural connectivity, such as those performed by the limbic system, containing the hypothalamus, hippocampus and amygdala.
These important structures are responsible for integrating and giving context to aspects of emotions, memories and learning, thus building our cognitive capacities. Therefore, it is essential to maintain the functionality of these cerebral regions that permit the acquisition, storage and recall of information, as together with the cerebral cortex, they are fundamental for several aspects of personal, social and professional performance.
The perception of potential fragility of these intricate brain structures is inevitable, when faced with extreme and unknown situations, such as one might encounter on a manned trip to Mars. The effects of different space features, such as radiation or microgravity, may pose a threat not only to the ability of an astronaut to perform both simple and complex tasks, but also to control emotions or react in an adequate manner to a new environment in which access to old memories may become essential.
A recently published article by Mike Wall of Space.com presented the issue of space radiation and how it can affect the brain function and psychological behaviour of animals, in research using a new scientific approach. The study conducted by Munjal Acharya & Janet Baulch of the University of California and Peter Klein of Stanford University, exposed mice for the first time to a continuous and chronic low-dosage radiation (1mGy/day). The idea of the research team was to mimic a manned trip to Mars, during which astronauts would be exposed to 6 months of low-dosage, deep-space radiation. This type of protocol differs from those previously used, in which animals were submitted to high-dosage radiation over short time periods.
The space environment is very unique and is full of radiation in the form of galactic cosmic rays, particles of high energy and charge, and solar particle events, which differ from the low-LET (X- or g-rays) radiation that is predominant on Earth. Radiation is known to affect humans in several ways, in three distinct phases: acute, latent and chronic effects. Chemical mediators are first released from damaged cells, particularly from bone marrow, lymphoid tissues and the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and malaise. The latent phase is free of symptoms as it represents the time between the initial cell injury and manifestation of cell renewal. Chronic effects include a decrease in cell count, and increase in the risk of developing cancer, and degenerative and infectious diseases.
The negative impact of radiation on the Central Nervous System (CNS) has been considered relatively minor, as the CNS is formed of few actively dividing cells, which provides it with a type of natural resistance. Nonetheless, some studies have demonstrated that space radiation could potentially produce undesirable effects on the brain, including a decrease in function and neurodegeneration.
The results from the mice study would seem to corroborate the hypothesis that radiation can indeed cause deleterious effects on the CNS, perhaps due to the longer 6-month period of exposure to the low-dose radiation. These findings, published in the Society for Neuroscience's open-access journal, eNeuro, suggest that mice exposed to radiation had alterations in their hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and the prefrontal lobe of the cortex, dedicated to cognitive functions and social relationships. The neurological pathway has yet to be defined, but it is already of serious concern to the space scientific community, as such alterations could cause impairment in psychological performance, especially during stressful and critical situations, like those that could easily be experienced during an interplanetary trip, which is exactly the occasion when clear and immediate decision-making or problem-solving responses are needed!
Under normal conditions on Earth, the human cognitive and emotional processes can struggle to perform well enough to cope with the demands of everyday life, and therefore, the subjective and objective adversities of adapting to a long-duration trip to another planet could be a huge challenge. Even if we are able to control each one of the many physical or psychological variables that could impact on our relationship with the space environment, aerospace science still needs to deal with poorly understood aspects related to the interaction of executive memory with emotions, with experts having highlighted that what we remember is never the same as what was originally set to be fixed in our memory - the material undergoes change in the storage process as each individual adds personal characteristics to the stored element.
The peculiarities of the human brain and its crossovers between the acts of feeling, thinking, planning and performing have already led humanity to evolve, overcoming innumerous obstacles from the Stone Age to the Modern Era. However, even in a place with no palpable barriers, like the vastness of space, there will be invisible elements, such as radiation, that could be powerful enough to delay or impede human omnipotence and omnipresence in the exploration of the Universe.
Dr. Gabriela S. Pilo
Oceanographer, Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies (University of Tasmania, Australia)
It is quite easy to draw a parallel between ocean and space exploration. Both require a ship, a large sense of adventure, and a love of discovery. But there are more similarities between the ocean and space than simply their ability to feed the imagination of writers, musicians, and curious minds.
The ocean, like space, is still unknown. Similarly to space research, ocean researchers are still trying to fill several knowledge gaps. We’ve advanced a lot since the beginning of modern Oceanography, attributed to the Challenger Expedition in 1872. We have now charted the main ocean currents, from the surface down to the bottom of the ocean, at 6000 m depths. We understand how and where surface waters become dense and sink, creating a conveyor belt that connects the whole planet, travelling for 1000 years before re-surfacing. We also understand that ocean currents interact with the wind, the ocean floor, and with each other, and break into several rotating bodies of water, known as ocean eddies. These eddies spin away, carrying their parent current’s water to distant parts of the ocean. However, as in space, there is still a lot we don’t know. Gaps in ocean research relate to balances of energy and of biogeochemical compounds, and to the response of the ocean to a changing climate.
Considering that there still so much to learn, we often find ourselves in the middle of the ocean looking for answers! This brings up the second similarity between ocean and space research: when you are out there, conditions can get harsh! Open-ocean Oceanographic cruises can last for up to 3 months, having only a few shore stops during this time. Therefore, like in space, an oceanographic vessel must be autonomous for a long period of time. During research cruises, scientists and crew members are putting all their efforts into sampling the water and measuring physical properties of the ocean. Sampling happens under all circumstances, in the middle of the night, in rain, snow, and under very high wave conditions! In addition, icebreaker vessels can go deep into an ice field, and reach the most remote parts of the world. Ocean-sickness, just like space-sickness, often kicks in, as your body gets used to the constant movement. You are also living in a confined space with like-minded people that have one goal: to do science!
But the ocean is not just a large body of water, flowing and crashing against the shore. The bathymetry of the ocean, the chemical elements dissolved in the water, and the animals, microbes, and algae that live in it, are equally important and fascinating! Oceanography is a highly multidisciplinary research field. Therefore, to fully understand the ocean, we need to collaborate. It takes a team of physical oceanographers, marine biologists, geologists, meteorologists, glaciologists, and several other scientists to put the pieces of the puzzle together. This team work builds up our knowledge of the ocean. Just like in the space sciences, collaboration is key! For example, the InnovaSpace Team is composed of experts in life science, telehealth, and engineering.
Finally, the ocean, like space, is vast. We cannot be everywhere, at all times to study it. To obtain global, constant measurements of the ocean we rely on state-of-the-art sensors, similarly to space research. The sensors to measure the ocean are either aboard a series of artificial satellites orbiting the Earth, or in instruments placed in the water. Sensors onboard satellites can measure the sea surface temperature, salinity, and sea surface height. In the water, sensors are aboard floats, mooring arrays, automated underwater vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, gliders, and seals (!). Operational oceanography is a fascinating field of research, and at its heart sits the Argo array, composed of 4000 Argo floats measuring temperature and salinity of the top 2000 m of the ocean since 2005. This array has helped oceanographers to answer important questions on ocean circulation and climate change.
Ultimately, the ocean - just like the space - brings fascination. The excitement of discovery is present both when exploring a deep canyon or a distant quasar. In the end, the ocean is also a final frontier. A frontier, however, closer to home!
Department of Morphological Sciences, ICBS, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Amazing as it may seem, as the number of spaceflights has increased and life aboard space stations has become a reality, the effects of high levels of space radiation and microgravity (micro-G) on mammalian reproduction are still largely unknown. Therefore, the study of reproduction in space is a very important subject for the future of space missions. Research conducted with experimental non-mammal animals, such as sea urchins, fish, amphibians, and birds has concluded that micro-G does not prevent animal reproduction. However, mammalian reproduction presents specific features, such as ovulation, sperm and oocyte (egg) transit in the reproductive tract, embryo attachment, implantation and placentation, which are specific to mammalian reproduction and cannot be studied in non-mammal species. Surprisingly, little information is available today on how these processes occur in conditions of microgravity.
A first problem requiring investigation is the supposed difficulty that sperm and egg cells may have to travel along the female reproductive tract to accomplish natural fertilization under micro-G conditions. A project with 100% relevance is NASA’s Micro-11 research, which aims to examine putative motility alterations in human and bull sperm during spaceflight. “Micro-11 provides fundamental data indicating whether successful human reproduction beyond Earth is possible, and whether countermeasures are needed to protect sperm function in space” (NASA). Rapid directional sperm motility is a key factor for successful fertilisation under natural circumstances. Sperm cells need to swim up the uterine cervix, travel through the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes to meet and fertilise the oocyte. To accomplish all these tasks, human sperm respond to chemoattractant signals, to temperature gradient, and to fluid flow. These guidance mechanisms occur naturally along the female reproductive tract and are important for the sperm-egg encounter and for natural fertilisation to occur in the fallopian tubes, but will these mechanisms be sufficient in micro-G?
Experimental studies with mice have revealed impaired male germ cell generation under microgravity conditions. Of concern are alterations seen in the physiology of testicular cells observed under conditions of simulated microgravity, which may obscure the starting point of mechanisms that lead to long-lasting tumorigenic processes. However, a recent research has shown that the deleterious effects of microgravity on germ cell proliferation, oxidative metabolism and autophagy may be, at least partially, prevented by the presence of antioxidants in the germ cell culture medium. This finding represents an important contribution to the current knowledge of microgravity effects on germ cell tumour metabolism and development.
According to estimates, nearly one in six couples worldwide seek out assisted reproduction technologies for having a child. Thus, it is expected that fertility assistance may also be necessary in space due to naturally occurring fertility problems or due to micro-G induced infertility conditions. A report from the 35th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology recently revealed that frozen human sperm retain their viability and fertilising capacity in outer space, similar to sperm samples stored in liquid nitrogen under Earth’s gravity conditions. This represents a reassuring finding, particularly when considering the importance of sperm cryostorage for fertility preservation, such as in the case of cancer patients who may lose their reproductive potential due to oncological treatments. It also allows us to hypothesise that donor intra-uterine insemination may represent a viable option for having a child under the micro-G conditions found in space stations.
The more complex assisted reproduction technology (ART), “in vitro fertilisation” (IVF), developed by Sir Robert Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe, allows fertilisation to occur outside of the body, i.e., outside its natural tubal environment, in a plastic petri dish, giving rise to the term “test-tube” baby. Its main purpose is to promote fertilisation when the natural encounter of sperm and oocyte is not possible, as is the case of women presenting blocked uterine horns. In summary, oocytes are first collected from the ovaries, (performed by transvaginal ovarian puncture and aspiration) and placed in a petri “IVF” dish containing a culture medium that mimics the tubal micro-environment. The male partner produces a sperm sample, which is prepared for mixing with the oocytes, after which the IVF dish is maintained in a warm incubator (37oC) in a laboratory for fertilisation to take place. The sperm must be able to swim and penetrate the oocyte membrane for fertilisation to be accomplished, and to assist this they are placed close together to facilitate their interaction and fusion.
The resulting embryos remain in the incubator for up to six or seven days, before being transferred to the womb. However, fertilisation will not occur under natural or even IVF conditions when the ejaculated sperm do not present rapid directional motility in a condition called asthenospermia, a common cause of unsuccessful reproduction among infertile couples. To help these individuals generate their own descendants, the ART “intracytoplasmic sperm injection” (ICSI) technique was developed by Dr. Gianpietro Palermo. ICSI allows fertilisation to occur even when the sperm sample is poor in terms of number and/or motility.
The technique uses a micromanipulation station fitted to an inverted microscope equipped with contrast optics that enable three-dimensional visualisation of living cells. The ICSI micromanipulation equipment consists of two glass pipettes; a holding pipette to fix the oocyte and an injection pipette to introduce the sperm into the oocyte cytoplasm (see below video). The ICSI insemination strategy allows fertilisation to occur even under unfavourable conditions, and it can perhaps be hypothesised that this technology may be of assistance in the case of sperm motility deficiencies in outer space, where micro-G conditions may prevent natural, unassisted sperm-egg fusion.
Undoubtedly, much more research needs to be performed before we can erase the large question marks that remain as to the likelihood of natural fertilisation taking place in mammals under micro-G conditions, and if required, how effective current assisted reproduction technology would be when using the ART setup and equipment developed on Earth. With talk of future Moon and Mars colonisation and space hotels in the coming decades, there will come a time when human reproduction under microgravity conditions will need to be better addressed if life is to be sustained in off-Earth environments.
Life in research and academia is often busy, with commitments to attend conferences to disseminate your work, learn of what other research is being conducted in your field of interest, and to build a network of like-minded people linked by common themes. InnovaSpace’s Scientific and Strategic Consultant Roberto Fanganiello is no exception to this way of life and travels frequently around the globe, with last week seeing him in Canada attending the 7th International Symposium on Surfaces and Interfaces for Biomaterials (ISSIB, 22-25 July 2019), held at the Quebec City Convention Centre, in Quebec.
His time was well filled with activities over three of the conference days; giving a talk at a tutorial session on the innovative strategies used to design surfaces and interfaces for biosensors, as well as on surface modifications of biomaterials to make them optimal for association with different types of cells; giving a keynote talk at the main conference, on surface modifications of titanium implants to improve bone tissue formation and regeneration; and chairing a session on Future Trends in material and biomaterial sciences.
Surfaces and interfaces in biomaterials are topics of key significance in the fields of biomaterials and tissue engineering, and form a strong scientific platform for technological innovation and economic growth worldwide. Many novel ideas and concepts were shared at this year’s ISSIB Symposium, together with an exchange of information regarding the use of emerging technologies and fundamental advances in biomaterial surfaces and interfaces.
Plans are already afoot for the next edition of the ISSIB Symposium, scheduled to take place in Australia in 2021, and Roberto, among others, is eager to see just how much these technologies will have progressed by then!
The First Lego League (FLL) is an annual international tournament involving teams of young people aged 9-16 years. It introduces a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus on, research, and create solutions to identified problems, and includes a robotics challenge to perform a set task with a programmable robot constructed from LEGO electronic and mechanical components. This year, over 40,400 teams competed in regional, national and international tournaments with their ideas, including team AC/DC/EG from Brazil, who had a very successful competition and were kind enough to give us an insight into their FLL Into Orbit experience in this year's competition, in their words below:
"The AC/DC/EG team was created on 07/12/2007 to represent the Eduardo Gomes College in São Caetano do Sul, Brazil in the FIRST LEGO League tournament. The team name is formed from the name of the rock band AC/DC together with EG for Eduardo Gomes, and so far, we have participated in competitions at 11 State, 11 National and 7 International stages.
The 2018/2019 FLL - INTO ORBIT tournament has been sensational for us. Our team began taking shape in May 2018, and underwent some changes, beginning with 8 team members and finishing up with 5 members - Eduardo, Felipe and Sophia (from the beginning), and later joined by Gabriella and Fernanda. And it was with this team of 5 that our coach Reginaldo and mentors Giovanni and Giovanna reached the end of the competition.
The official launch of the FLL tournament took place on August 1st 2018, so we used the time from May to August to research several problems related to this year's theme by visiting universities, watching films and videos, reading books, magazines and theses, and talking to experts in the field.
At the beginning of September, we talked with Aerospace Medicine specialist Dr Thais Russomano, presenting to her everything we had studied so far, and it was during one of our initial conversations that we realised there was a problem faced by astronauts, which is: WASHING IN SPACE
We already had the FLL competition documentation in this initial period of our discussions so we began to compare the problems raised to make sure they fitted in with the competition guidelines. In all, we analysed 14 problems:
A phrase we heard that marked our work was by NASA space scientist Robert Frost, who said: "When several people are trapped in an enclosed space, HYGIENE IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE." So, having done our analysis, we chose the subject of how to wash the body in space and defined our problem:
THE INEFFICIENCY OF WASHING IN MICROGRAVITY
And we asked:
HOW CAN WASHING BE MADE MORE EFFICIENT IN MICROGRAVITY?
We continued studying, raising new points and discussing them with Dr Russomano. We looked at the ways of washing that have previously been used and the current method of washing in space.
⇨ A sponge with soap and water, used during the Gemini and Apollo missions.
⇨ A shower on the MIR Space Station that wasted a lot of time, water and energy.
⇨ The Russian kit, which consists of a pre-moistened wipe and can be used for up to 3 days, using less water.
⇨ The NASA Kit, which is a cloth moistened with soap and water.
We noted that, to be ideal, washing should be able to deal with dead skin cells, sweat, oiliness, odour, and bacteria and fungi!
We had a lot of ideas, including a kind of human jet wash that used little water – but this and other ideas were discarded as our objective was for something low-cost, water-free and lightweight, that would occupy very little space on a spacecraft.
It was in thinking about this goal that we discovered a gel called DryBath, created by Ludwick Marishane, mostly for use on the African continent and in places with a scarcity/lack of water. Ludwick’s idea is that water should only be used for drinking and cooking, and for washing it can be replaced by the gel. With just 15ml of the gel, it is possible for an adult to wash without using water, and without the need to remove the gel from skin, as it is moisturising. All of our team tried using the gel, including our coach.
The benefits of the gel in comparison with the existing solutions are enormous, as besides dispensing with the need for water for washing, there is a gain in transport weight and the gel occupies a minimum of space on a spacecraft. However, we needed to know its viability for use in space, so we talked to Chemical Engineer Matheus Messias, who confirmed the gel is non-flammable, and with Dermatologist Oswaldo Cipullo, who said the gel fulfils all the requirements for body washing and can be used daily.
Nonetheless, the current gel packaging makes it unfeasible for use in space, as it generates a lot of waste. Therefore, after some brainstorming and tests, we developed a new storage and application system utilising a 2-litre urine collection bag filled with gel, calculating that each explorer would need 3 such bags to cover a 1-year period. Each bag is fitted with a valve connector to guarantee the pressure required to transport the gel into a syringe-type applicator, which allows its controlled delivery to the body.
This system for gel storage and use saves important resources, enables fast application, requires no cleaning of the equipment, has no loss, and needs no repairs. Currently, 4 litres of water is used in space per wash, whereas, with this quantity of gel it would be possible to have 266 washes, meaning water will no longer be needed for washing the body and can be used for something else within the spacecraft. The cost of the gel and the system is 1610 Brazilian real (approx. £310) per person for a year.
Therefore, it is possible to take something that was designed for use on Earth and adapt it to make its use possible in space, rather like the tortillas of astronaut Rodolfo Vela, as quoted in the FLL Into Orbit competition guidelines."
The InnovaSpace team would like to congratulate the AC/DC/EG team and everyone who supported them for their success and the enthusiasm and joy they brought to the tournament stages! Congratulations also go to the thousands of teams from around the world for their hard work, curiosity, research and enthusiasm - YOU ARE ALL STARS!
The InnovaSpace team in the last years have been involved on a couple of occasions with the innovative activities of Guerilla Science, as they seek to connect the general public with science in new and interesting ways.
The benefits of yoga on Earth are well known, and it is certainly an activity that would improve the health of anyone practicing it regularly. The Guerilla crew have come up with a series of great videos linking dynamic yoga stretches with the effects of microgravity on the human body and mind, assisted by five expert space scientists, one of which is InnovaSpace's very own Space Life Sciences Expert Dr. Lucas Rehnberg, who explains about Space Walks and the problems astronauts face when conducting maintenance tasks on the outside of the International Space Station.
Get out your yoga mats, exercise your body, and stretch your mind learning fascinating facts about the human body in space!
Dr. Lucas Rehnberg
InnovaSpace Space Life Sciences Expert.
Recently I had the pleasure to attend the world’s largest aerospace medicine conference in Las Vegas, the 90th Annual Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) Conference. This was my second AsMA (@Aero_Med) meeting and it didn’t disappoint.
As a doctor training in the UK with an interest in space medicine, the AsMA conference is a great opportunity to present work, meet other space medicine enthusiasts as well as individuals from different disciplines – but all with a shared passion for space and aerospace. The thought behind this blog was to serve as a taster of what AsMA has to offer to those thinking about pursuing a career in this field or who want to gain an idea of how to become involved. So, this was my experience of the conference:
Day 1 - Monday
Started with an incredible opening session commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the moon landing.
The panel was moderated by Dr Mike Barratt, astronaut and flight surgeon, and consisted of some giants from the Apollo missions:
- Dr Charles Berry & Dr Bill Carpentier, Apollo flight surgeons.
- Gerry Griffin, Apollo flight director.
The session opened with a specially commissioned video dedicated to the Apollo 11 landing in 1969 and the lead-up time. It was an excellent reminder of what was achieved when a nation came together and set the tone for the discussion, reflecting on their experience of Apollo 11 and the Apollo missions.
Some of my favourite moments of this session include when Dr Berry told a great story of stopping President Nixon from having a meal with the Apollo 11 crew the night before their launch, including a letter he wrote to President Nixon apologising for this. Then flight surgeon Dr Carpentier told us what flight surgeons learnt from the Mercury and Gemini missions, before starting on the Apollo missions. Dr Carpentier also spoke about some of his training, including practicing jumping from a moving helicopter in order that he could give medical assistance to the landing Apollo crews.
Gerry Griffin spoke of the pressure of the Apollo missions and the relief mixed with excitement when the Apollo 11 crew set foot on the aircraft carrier after their landing. He also spoke about the Apollo 1 tragedy, what we learnt from all the Apollo missions, and how this will help human spaceflight now that we are focusing on going back to the Moon.
Closing comments from each of the panel followed a similar theme, summed up best by Gerry Griffin, "We’ve gotta get back to the Moon. It’s been 50 years since we’ve done it...we need to get our mojo back."
In the afternoon, I attended 2 panels; behavioural health in human spaceflight and advancing future space exploration with medical system design. The former panel emphasised the importance of human factors and behaviours for the success of exploration missions. It highlighted the lack of data and long-term follow-up of many of the astronauts, suggesting a need to ensure this occurs with current crew members, and also to better assess and monitor psychological performance.
The latter panel was very interesting, attempting to do predict the impossible; what can go wrong with crewmembers and how do we plan/prepare for it? The list of medical conditions that could occur during a human mission to Mars is extensive, and plans for dealing with such events are still in development. The panel members described risk analysis with all the available current data, also emphasising the importance of an interface between medics and engineers to help design systems to overcome these problems (the old mass, power, volume issue).
This began with the ESAM (European Society of Areospace Medicine) panel. There were talks on the difficult topic of airway management and intubation in microgravity, with some interesting results suggesting that modern video laryngoscopy could be a useful tool in novice healthcare providers in order to increase their success rate. There followed a review of the latest microgravity CPR data in order to develop an evidence-based CPR guideline, and finally Dr Christina Mackaill (@cosmic_scot - one to follow!) talked about some of the terrestrial benefits of hypogravity CPR research.
The afternoon saw an EXCELLENT panel on analog missions, discussing the medical considerations for each one. Speakers included:
I also had the pleasure of presenting some work conducted with the Austrian Space Forum on the AMADEE18 Mars analog mission, looking at fatigue in analog astronauts. The rest of the panel included excellent speakers on current developments for IVA (intra vehicular activity) suits and a portable lower body negative pressure device.
The afternoon session was then dedicated to the medical lessons learnt from the Apollo missions - a great historical look at what they did, what was learnt from it, and how it will shape what we do when going back to the Moon. The session included a review of the main biomedical results and how medical operations were conducted during the Apollo missions, an interesting insight into the food and nutrition of the Apollo crews, and the recovery and quarantine programme of the Apollo Moon landing missions. Truly some giants in the field of space life science, and what they learnt 50 years ago will shape how we return humans to the Moon in the next 10 years!
This day had a good mix of space medicine topics:
I should point out that what I have written here is just my experience of the AsMA meeting this year in Las Vegas; there were so many other great panels that I couldn’t attend, even a course on desert medicine hosted by AsMA (alas, I had to fly home).
For students or young professionals looking to enter this exciting field, I would highly recommend the AsMA conference (next year in Atlanta, Georgia, USA). There are a range of scholarships to help fund attending the conference, check out the AsMA website for details: https://www.asma.org/home
The conference will give you the opportunity to hear from experts, past and present, from NASA, ESA, all branches of the military, flight surgeons, astronauts, engineers and so many more. In addition, there are breakout sessions ranging from luncheons with guest speakers to ‘Speed Mentoring’ to help students and young professionals to network, build relationships and guide them in their next steps for a career in space.
Again, if this is your dream, AsMA is a great place to start. For more information, check out their website, or get in touch for more information. If your a fan of social media, I would also recommend following InnovaSpace on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter, and also some of the mentioned individuals in this article - they are just a few of the many space medics out there doing interesting work - and apologies to anyone I missed!
The negative effects on the human musculoskeletal system of spending prolonged periods of time in a reduced gravity environment are well known and documented. Astronauts in space suffer a loss of bone and muscle mass, especially in the lower extremities, which they try to counteract by exercising for at least 2 hours a day while in space. The Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) is a complex piece of equipment on the International Space Station that is especially designed to provide a resistive type of exercise that helps astronauts maintain muscle mass. You can imagine that this equipment would have taken a lot of time and money to develop and validate, requiring the skills of a team of biomedical engineers and physiologists. However, you don't have to be a NASA engineer or have a PhD to come up with a good idea, as borne out by the creative mind of Frank Calvin, former US marine and law-enforcement officer, who recently sent us a video of his patented exercise harness. We liked the simplicity and effectiveness of his idea, so we thought we would throw open today's blog to Frank from Warren, Ohio!
"IF IT WORKS IN WATER IT WILL WORK IN SPACE" - says Frank Calvin
Imagine wearing a 30lb backpack and jumping into the deep end a swimming pool - you will sink like a rock! But wear the harness and jump into the deep end of the pool. and you will stay afloat as normal, but when treading water or doggy paddling, the quads and lower back are immediately being worked and the 25-30lb of pressure remains on the core system. All movements mentioned can be made in a weightless environment.
In conclusion, I submit that muscle mass can be GAINED, along with prevention of bone density loss in microgravity with the aid of this harness, which is low-cost, light and easy to use!
From an InnovaSpace point of view, it certainly does seem to be a very simple and low-cost idea, and it would probably be interesting if the harness could form part of a research project conducted inside and outside of water in order to validate the system and define its effectiveness. We congratulate Frank on his idea and wish him well for the future of his device!