We welcome another blog by ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, currently spending 12 months at the Concordia research station in Antarctica conducting experiments. What an amazing experience - do take a look at his previous blogs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) to follow his great adventure to the world's southernmost continent.
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, February 7, 2020
Sunlight: 24 hours (but not for long)
Windchill temperature: -45°C
Mood: a little roller coaster
At this moment I am just plain excited. Next to me the rest of the DC16 crew are having their own emotions. Our freshly inaugurated station leader Alberto, draped in the colours of our three national flags, came up with the idea to have our national anthems playing while the last Basler plane of the summer campaign leaves Dome C. So here I stand, hearing my own voice on maximum volume pronouncing a Dutch translation of too patriotic sentences from the station’s speakers, and with the Dutch ‘Wilhelmus’ screaming over the Antarctic plateau as an official start of our winter over. Haha, such an unrealistic scenario! And while those sounds are quickly overruled by the roaring engines of the plane, and with snow blowing in our faces, I can only smile. There goes our last connection to the rest of the earth, disappearing into the distant sky. Unbelievable!
I guess I have already spilled all of my emotions at this point. In the past few days, more and more planes have been taking away more and more of the beautiful people we enjoyed our summertime with, and the station has become more and more empty. Funny: they were already leaving, and I have the idea we just started… It has been an exciting idea on the one hand, but the closer we came to being left alone, the more and more confronting that got on the other. When two days earlier another plane left with sixteen more people, the goodbyes were harsh, with everyone in tears again. You know, those healthy ones. And when it was gone, those left on the ice slowly returned back to the station, all silent, all caught in their own thoughts. It had been an intense few summer months, and this was the weird moment of realization that it had come to an end, with a big unknown lying ahead. I guess the blend of feelings has been a repetition of those during the days before my departure to the Antarctic. Perhaps a little lighter this time.
Now with only twelve, life will be very different. Finally our own room, our own rhythm, some well-deserved rest from the busy summer, but most of all a heck of an experience waiting for us (isolation, confinement, monotony, you know how to get me excited…)! Reason enough to answer that enthusiasm with our first winter over picture on the roof, and later some mulled wine at the same spot, enjoying the beautiful sun now we still can.
Not only the more relaxed dynamics and personal interaction within the station are a welcome change. Signs of the coming winter are everywhere. With the sun creeping towards the horizon (hard to believe, but from the first sunset we apparently lose about 25 minutes of sunlight each day!) all kinds of colours light up the sky. Light blue has become deep blue, white has become grey, and carefully the sky started showing some yellow. That yellow has been turning into orange now, mirrored by red and purple on the opposite side. It is a spectacle, and I came to think that these three-hour sunsets may be even more special than the three-month darkness awaiting us…
Indeed, we better enjoy these changes now we can. Waving at that last plane on that February 7, all of us truly seemed to be left alone, and not just physically. So, after some awkward looks at each other, just like when we first met as a crew during our training in Europe (‘so, it is you who I am spending the next nine months with…’), we decided that there was only one real solution. And there we stood, while the plane disappeared slowly into that distant sky, dancing, on Britney Spear’s Toxic. Incredible that even such songs can become of value…
Note: this article was originally posted on the ESA blog website (LINK) and permission has been obtained to republish it here.
Director of Space Training Operations, Blue Abyss; European Space Agency (Retd); Chinese Academy of Sciences (Retd); InnovaSpace Advisory Board Member
Congratulations to Editor Vladimir Pletser and all the authors who contributed to this interesting open-access book entitled Preparations of Space Experiments, which was published this week. Spend a few minutes watching Vladimir as he summarises the contents of each chapter, written by world-leading researchers who have designed and prepared science experiments on microgravity platforms, including aircraft parabolic flights, in preparation for subsequent spaceflight.
Daniel E. Vigo, MD, PhD
Independent Researcher: Institute for Biomedical Research (Catholic University of Argentina and National Scientific and Technical Research Council) & InnovaSpace Advisory Board Member
Belgrano to Mars
The Antarctic continent is considered to be one of the most realistic analogues found on Earth of the situations of extreme isolation and confinement experienced in space. Since 2014, we have been conducting at the Belgrano II Argentine Antarctic Station the project "Chronobiology of Antarctic Isolation: the use of the Belgrano II Station as a model of biological desynchronization and spatial analogue", also known as “Belgrano to Mars”. The project aims to explore the impact of a year of isolation on different physiological, psychological and social variables. In particular, we are interested in studying how biological rhythms are affected by the lack of natural light during the four months of polar night typical of that latitude. The study of the chronobiological responses to extreme isolation increases our understanding of the physiological mechanisms underlying human biological rhythms, with applications in space exploration or other highly demanding professional settings, as well as in human health.
The Belgrano II Antarctic station consists of a series of scientific research facilities located approximately 1,300 km away from the South Pole at 34°S, 77°W. It is the most southerly Argentinian station and one of the three southernmost permanent stations on the planet. The temperature ranges from 5°C to 48°C below zero. One feature of this station is that, due to its latitude, it has four months of continuous sunlight, four months of twilight and four months of polar night. The station crew is composed of around 20 men. To generate a light-dark cycle during the summer, windows with blinds closed are used, in accordance with a normal sleep routine, while using eye covers during the night if necessary. Exposure to ultraviolet light is also stronger and sunglasses for external work are mandatory. Conversely, in the wintertime, the light-dark cycle depends entirely on artificial light. Schedules with well-defined times for meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) work and rest are paramount in Antarctic stations.
“Belgrano to Mars” is a collaborative project in which researchers Camila Tortello and Santiago Plano (UCA-CONICET and UNQ) participate in the analysis and interpretation of the information and Juan Manuel Cuiuli (Joint Antarctic Command) in the scientific coordination between Buenos Aires and Antarctica. Other members of the project are Marta Barbarito (Argentine Antarctic Institute), Diego Golombek and Patricia Agostino (UNQ and CONICET), Agustín Folgueira and Juan Manuel López (Central Military Hospital), and Guido Simonelli (University of Montreal). Field work during isolation is carried out by physicians from the wintering crews at the station and staff members that volunteer for the study. Antarctic scientific activity is coordinated by the National Antarctic Directorate (DNA), which together with the Joint Antarctic Command, provides the logistics of the bases.
This year, we have traveled to Antarctica to supervise the implementation of the Belgrano to Mars project in the field, to test measurement instruments and to train the crew in the use of the equipment and software. The trip demanded six weeks of navigation in the ARA Almirante Iríza icebreaker. In addition, we started working with the European Space Agency (ESA) in the operational test of the Telemedecine Tempus Pro equipment, under the framework of an ESA-CONAE-DNA agreement. The project, led by Dr. Víctor Demaría-Pesce, from ESA's European Astronaut Center, involves conducting operational simulations in a situation of extreme isolation and confinement, which will contribute to the design of a definitive prototype to be used by astronauts and medical teams during future space missions to the Moon and Mars. The equipment will be tested at Belgrano II (Dr. Bruno Cauda and Enf. Luis Almaraz) and Carlini (Dra. Melina D'Angelo and Enf. Gustavo Cruz) stations, through six simulations that will recreate medical scenarios similar to those encountered by astronauts in space.
Lessons to be learned from this kind of study
We have recently published in the journal Scientific Reports (from the Nature Group) data regarding changes in the sleep-wake cycle during a winter campaign at Belgrano II. We observed that during the polar night the subjects tended to go to bed one hour later and sleep one hour less. A possible explanation is that this is due to the lack of exposure to natural light, since bright light acts as a synchronizer of our biological rhythms. This loss of sleep was somewhat compensated by naps, which were longer during that time of year.
These results show us how biological rhythms can be desynchronized in periods of prolonged confinement, such as the ones we have had to go through during the quarantine periods instituted in different countries. Moreover, it highlights the importance of exposure to natural light in the morning and darkness during the night and maintaining fixed activity and rest routines to avoid the desynchronization of our biological rhythms. Other sleep hygiene measures include the limiting of daytime naps to 30 minutes, regularly exercising (it may be necessary to avoid working out before bedtime), having a light dinner, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime, and making sure that the sleep environment is dark, silent and with a pleasant temperature. The beneficial effects of having good sleep relate to an increase in alertness during the day, the prevention of anxiety or depression, and the improvement of our general health, which in turn will reduce the chances of becoming ill.
Author: María Alejandra Corzo Zamora M.D, MSc
Space Physiology & Analogue Space Missions Lead - InnovaSpace Spanish Hub
Misiones Espaciales Análogas.., término que a primera vista para algunos es extraño, para otros es una gran oportunidad de ciencia. La primera vez que vi este término fue durante mi maestría en Fisiología y Salud Espacial en King’s College London, en la cual diferentes docentes y estudios los tenían como referencia para investigación en ciencias espaciales y desde ese momento me enamoré de este campo.
Pero que son las Misiones Espaciales Análogas??
Bueno, estas misiones son operaciones espaciales realizadas en la Tierra en escenarios naturales o artificiales adecuados para simular entornos o escenarios espaciales, los cuales se realizan para realizar pruebas de equipos, estandarizar procedimientos de tripulaciones espaciales y también permiten desarrollar estudios en diversas áreas del conocimiento como son la Biología, medicina, ingeniería biomédica, robótica, comunicaciones, y otros tipos de ingeniería entre otras.
El planeamiento de una misión espacial requiere de diferentes componentes que deben ser milimétricamente estandarizados en tierra para lograr el éxito de la misión en el espacio, en este campo, las misiones espaciales análogas juegan un papel importante en la estandarización y entrenamiento de las personas involucradas en la misma.
Las misiones espaciales análogas datan desde la planeación de las misiones Apolo de NASA en la cual, cráteres de meteoritos y faldas de volcanes fueron utilizados para las pruebas de trajes espaciales y rovers que participaron en la misión; así como los astronautas seleccionados recibieron su entrenamiento en comunicaciones, procedimientos para recolección de muestras geológicas, supervivencia, adaptación a sistemas de emergencia de vehículos y su operación.
Astronautas del Apollo 11 Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin (izquierda) and Neil A. Armstrong, en entrenamiento de procedimiento para la recolección de muestras geológicas en la Luna para el primer aterrizaje Lunar en las Montañas de Quitman en Texas. En esta mission utilizaron herramientas especialmente diseñadas para la mission. (NASA). Imagen tomada de Smithsonian Magazine en: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/going-moon-apollo-11-astronauts-trained-these-five-sites-180972452/
Desde entonces, estas misiones son de vital importancia para los programas espaciales y para todas aquellas organizaciones, instituciones, universidades entre otros que desean realizar investigación y desarrollo en ciencias espaciales.
Entre las aplicaciones más utilizadas encontramos el estudio de los factores humanos en el espacio, los cuales se relacionan con respuestas comportamentales y fisiológicas al confinamiento, la interacción entre comunicaciones de la tripulación con el centro de mando remoto y el desarrollo de aplicaciones a distancia para el apoyo de la tripulación y manejo de emergencias.
Entre los escenarios naturales utilizados para estas misiones son los desiertos, los cuales poseen características únicas como acceso, cambios extremos de temperatura día y noche, vientos y su gran similitud con las imágenes topográficas de Marte, ejemplo de su uso se encuentra la estación del desierto de UTAH por el Mars Society y misiones temporales realizadas por el Foro Austriaco Espacial en desierto de Rio tinto en España, norte del Sahara en Marruecos y la región de Dophar en Oman. En Latinoamérica se han realizado misiones en el desierto de Atacama en Chile, en el desierto de la Tatacoa en Colombia entre otros desiertos.
De igual manera, la Antártida, al ser un continente poco poblado y de difícil acceso se convierte en otro escenario muy atractivo para el desarrollo de misiones análogas espaciales, es así como una estación permanente en la cual se ha desarrollado diferentes aplicaciones espaciales y estudios biomédicos es la estación Concordia operada por Italia y Francia.
El mundo de las misiones espaciales análogas es muy amplio y fascinante, así como el mismo espacio, otros escenarios incluyen cuevas, selvas, faldas de volcanes y el fondo del océano, hasta escenarios en hangares en la ciudad, los cuales proveen similitudes con el espacio dependiendo del objetivo que se busque en cada misión.
Si eres amante de estas ciencias, te invito a seguir los blogs en InnovaSpace, donde encontrarás otros datos sobre misiones espaciales análogas y otros temas de las ciencias espaciales.
Nos vemos próximamente!!!!
InnovaSpace is pleased to welcome Dr Stijn Thoolen to tell us more about life at the Concordia Research Station in the Antarctic, an extreme environment where temperatures can fall below −80 °C (−112 °F) in the winter months. As an ESA-sponsored medical research doctor, Stijn will remain at the Franco-Italian research station for 13 months - definitely not an activity for the faint hearted!
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
75 ° 05’59 “S; 123 ° 19’56” E.
I will spend 13 months of my life at these coordinates from November onwards. Far away from my girlfriend, my family and friends, from everything that I know and have loved for the past 28 years. A small 1700 km away from the South Pole, situated on a 3270-high ice sheet, with 40% less oxygen than at sea level (the atmosphere is thinner at the poles), a humidity lower than in the Sahara, average temperatures of –30°C in summer and –65°C in winter, four months without any ray of sunshine (is this lunchtime, or should I go to bed already?) and without possibility of evacuation for nine months, the Franco-Italian research station Concordia on Dome C in Antarctica sounds more like a base on another planet. Every year the European Space Agency sends a ‘hivernaut’ (a winter version of an astronaut?) to this abandoned outpost at the bottom of our globe to perform biomedical experiments on the crew, in preparation for missions to the Moon, Mars and who knows what’s next. This year it’s my turn, and those 13 months are starting to get awfully close…
I hear you ask: why (…would you do that for God’s sake)?
“In our history it was some horde of furry little mammals who hid from the dinosaurs, colonized the treetops and later scampered down to domesticate fire, invent writing, construct observatories and launch space vehicles” – Carl Sagan
I sometimes ask myself that question as well, but you can imagine that the answer is as obvious as the undertaking itself.
Maybe we should start with a short self-evaluation:
Self-evaluation is not something we often do. At least, I was never good at it. When everything goes according to plan, and everyone around you screams how wonderful it is that “little Stijn wants to become a surgeon!”, you aren’t really encouraged to take a critical look at yourself, right? But sometimes a shock (or two) helps to adjust a bit. A lesson in humility perhaps.
For me, that first shock came about five years ago. I had said “yes” a little too much, a good friend died, my parents divorced, and with about ten suitcases of mental luggage I left for a research internship in Boston, USA, during my medical studies. In such a new environment, full with material to reflect on, things became a little more relative. I realised that nothing is as obvious as it seems, that some things might actually be bigger than us (the Universe, God, the flying spaghetti monster, you choose), and, even better, how beautiful and special it is that we are able to witness all that (I know this sounds dull, but I dare you to try with your eyes fixed on a bright, starry sky).
Adam J Crellin
Graduate Medical Student, Oxford University; Analog Astronaut, Austrian Space Forum
While attending the 2019 European Mars Conference in London this week at the Institute of Physics, we had the pleasure of witnessing the graduation ceremony of the next cohort of newly qualified Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) analog astronauts, who will take part in next years' AMADEE20 Mars analog mission in Israel. Analog astronauts are people who have been trained to test equipment and conduct activities under simulated space conditions, and they play an important role in preparing for future Moon and Mars missions. We liked so much the graduation speech given by analog astronaut Adam Crellin that we asked if we could publish it here on the InnovaSpace website to inspire all the young would-be astronauts out there - dream big!
"I would like to open by saying not only how much of an honour it is to speak on behalf of my classmates and the Austrian Space Forum today, but also to stand in front of you all as a newly qualified analog astronaut. I am especially proud to be speaking at a European-wide conference in the UK, organised by the recently reformed Mars Society UK.
In classrooms across the UK, and even the world, children are being asked by their primary school teachers, the existential question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. Some of these children, fascinated by space, will say they want to be an astronaut. Children often continue this hope as they grow older, perhaps keeping it a bit quieter, guarding it a bit more closely. Later, they then discover that there are a huge range of diverse opportunities in space, and that astronauts are one small cog in a large machine. A machine that contains astronauts who plant flags; plant experts who grow astrocrops; astronomers who study the universe and its laws; lawyers who write legislation through careful engineering; engineers who build spacecraft that rock; and, well, for those who like rocks, there is geology as well as countless other professions."
"As we prepare for a renewed age of crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit, to fill the steps of the Apollo astronauts, and extend those tracks further than have ever been achieved before, we are reminded of the importance of analog missions. In the same way famous twentieth-century polar explorer, Roald Amundsen, spent years experimenting, refining, and proving equipment and procedures suitable for a South Pole expedition, we too are preparing for a Mars expedition. And equally so, preparedness will be key to success. For theory and strictly controlled laboratory research, can only partially answer some of the questions about what to expect, and how to work on Mars. Analog research missions, including those of the Austrian Space Forum, help to provide further answers.
To be an analog astronaut, is to be a unique cog in our space industry machine. A cog whose sporks interlink with many different cogs, working across disciplines with research groups throughout Europe. A well-oiled cog, remaining fit and healthy in preparedness for any challenge which may arise. And a cog which turns equally well with many cogs, both the rusted expert cogs, and the shiny new ones, who we seek to inspire the next generation of Mars pioneers; perhaps the most important task we all have. But despite these unique qualities, we remember that we are still a small cog and that it is our collective effort, turning together, which will one day lead us to Mars. To be part of this small community with big dreams, is the greatest honour of any analog astronaut."
Adam J Crellin, 4th November 2019
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!
InnovaSpace Admin Director
With another year now drawn to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the two very successful InnovaSpace Kids2Mars events that took place in 2018 involving questions asked by children to crew members of Mars analogue missions, one with the MDRS Crew 185 in the Utah desert and the other with the Austrian Space Forum’s AMADEE-18 mission in the Dhofar desert in Oman.
In summary, 53 children from 33 different countries from around the world had the opportunity to ask anything they wanted about travelling to and life on Mars, and very interesting answers came back from analogue astronauts and crew members who spent their time isolated in desert regions, especially chosen for their similarities to the planet Mars.
Analogue astronauts on this type of mission in general have little spare time, as they are involved in many research activities, so we knew we could not bombard them with a mountain of questions. This in fact also linked well with our aims for the Kids2Mars project, which was to involve children from as many different countries as possible – quantity of countries rather than quantity of questions. With our tagline of Space Without Borders, this aspect was of prime importance, so an end result of 33 countries was very satisfying, especially so considering the diverse range of nations involved, such as Bolivia, Bulgaria, Iceland, Mongolia and Nepal. In fact, we had questions coming from countries in 6 of the 7 continents, just missing out on Antarctica, which for obvious reasons is a little more difficult!
It was interesting to hear how the name of the planet Mars, named after the Roman god of war, was pronounced in the various languages. Certainly, the sound of the word was the same or very similar to the English pronunciation in the majority of cases, however, there were a few exceptions, such as from China, Japan, Nepal, Libya and Indian Tamil. We have extracted the word Mars, where mentioned, from all of the children’s questions and with the invaluable help of our two collaborators from Italy, Fabio Pinna and Mario Mollo, created a short video – we hope you like it!
One thing that has become obvious from all the Kids2Mars activities we have conducted is how much the subject of space and space travel arouses curiosity, and how much the young people involved in the lectures and creative pursuits have done so with great enthusiasm and interest. In our view, this is exactly why outreach activities linked to Mars or the Moon or astronauts, in fact anything involving space, can be used as a tool to capture the attention and interest of children, motivating them to give more consideration to the STEM areas of education. Although the adults of today are laying and securing the foundations of human life in space, it is our children who will build on this to become the Space Generation, and perhaps in time, even future Mars colonisers!
InnovaSpace Scientific & Strategic Consultant.
On November 21st and 22nd, 2018 I had the pleasure of visiting the laboratory of Prof. Nandu Goswami, at the Medical University of Graz, in Austria. Nandu is an Associate Professor at the university, interim head of the Division of Physiology and Head of the Gravitational Physiology and Medicine research unit. The main areas of study of his research group are cardiovascular physiology, cerebral auto-regulation and space/gravitational physiology, especially using Earth-based models of space flight.
Cardiovascular alterations encountered during space missions, such as a reduction in central venous pressure, cardiac atrophy and decreased vascular responsiveness to standing are major concerns for astronauts during and after spaceflight. On Earth, the ageing process is also linked to physiological deconditioning of the cardiovascular system, which creates a parallel with the changes in human physiology secondary to weightlessness exposure. At the Gravitational Physiology and Medicine research unit, bed rest studies are used as a ground-based simulation of microgravity to further understand the effects of deconditioning, both for the elderly on Earth and astronauts in space. This is also an area of special interest for InnovaSpace Advisor Joan Vernikos, who conducted similar research at NASA for many years and has published scientific articles and books on the topic.
InnovaSpace congratulates Nandu for his work, which is a very interesting area of research and can be seen as a good example of technological and knowledge transfer from space to Earth. Together with the InnovaSpace team, I hope we can one day collaborate with Prof. Goswami and his group in Graz.
Admin Director, InnovaSpace
A really exciting week lies ahead for the Aerospace Medicine and Rehabilitation Laboratory team of researchers from Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK. Led by Professor Nick Caplan, the team will take part in a partial-gravity parabolic flight campaign organised by the European Space Agency, the problem under investigation being one that affects many astronauts when they spend time in the microgravity of space – back pain.
It is well known that astronauts increase in height during their missions, usually between 3-5 cm. While under the influence of the gravity on Earth, the spine is compressed, rather like a spring being pushed down. Remove that force of gravity and the spring will expand and stretch, and this is what is thought to happen in space – the force of gravity is removed and so the vertebrae that make up the spine stretch out, and hence the increase in height and discomfort as connecting ligaments and support muscles extend. Over time spent in reduced gravity, research has demonstrated these muscles that connect the bones of the spine together shrink and weaken, particularly those in the lower back, as they are less required in space.
This musculoskeletal deconditioning can lead to a greater risk of spinal injury when an astronaut returns once more to an increased gravity environment, such as on Earth. Therefore, the Northumbria University experiment will examine through a technique called fine wire electromyography, which support muscles in the back are being affected by a reduction in microgravity. With this knowledge, it could be possible to develop an effective countermeasure to mitigate the muscle loss that will occur as humans spend longer durations in space, and considering the likelihood of colonies being established on the Moon or Mars.
InnovaSpace sends good luck vibes and best wishes to all the research team of the Aerospace Medicine and Rehabilitation Laboratory who will soon be boarding the Novespace Zero-G plane for 3 days of 31 parabolas a day. Hoping your equipment behaves, your data is plentiful and you all manage to not vomit up your breakfasts!
#parabolicflight #AstronautBackPain #partialgravity