Simulating Space on Earth to Help Protect Astronauts

©ESA.

Concordia Research Station.

Four new Canadian studies in the field of space health research have received funding from the Government of Canada to reduce health risks for astronauts on long-term missions. These experiments will simulate space conditions on Earth to investigate the physiological and psychosocial adaptation to space.

These research projects may also have a positive impact on health and the quality of life here on Earth. Many of the physiological changes that astronauts undergo in space are similar to problems related to aging or physical inactivity. The psychosocial effects of long-term space travel are also comparable to those experienced in remote work environments, isolated communities and among shut-ins.

Quick Facts

- The Canadian Space Agency is investing a total of $1.7 million in these studies.

- Workers who spend a winter season at an Antarctica research stations experience isolation similar to what astronauts experience during long-term missions to the International Space Station. They are confined with a limited group of people far from their families and normal social and health support networks.

- Subjects taking part in studies at the MEDES facilities will spend 60 days confined to an inclined bed with their heads at an angle six degrees lower than the body. This produces some of the same effects on the body as weightlessness in space.

Quotes

"Today's investment is a great demonstration of how experiments that help us understand the impacts of space travel on humans can benefit us here on Earth. Not only will these studies help us better ensure our astronauts stay healthy as they explore space, they will help expand our knowledge of health issues and drive innovations that could improve the lives of Canadians across the country."

- The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

"Space science often trickles down to our daily lives. We are proud to support this scientific research that will deepen our knowledge of the effects of longer missions on astronauts, and can improve our understanding of the effects of prolonged isolation or physical inactivity on the body and mind."

- The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

New Canadian Studies in the field of space health research

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is funding four new science experiments to be conducted on Earth in space-like conditions, starting in the winter 2015-2016. They were chosen for their relevance to health issues stemming from space travel, and for the benefits they offer for life on Earth.

These projects were first selected through two European Space Agency announcements of opportunity, followed by an Announcement of Opportunity that assessed relevance to Canada, led by the CSA.

The research will be conducted at the Concordia and Halley research stations in Antarctica, led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and at the British Antarctic Survey respectively, and by ESA with the Institut de M├ędecine et de Physiologie spatiales (MEDES) in France.

Experiment

1) Psychological Status Monitoring by Content Analysis and Acoustic-Phonetic Analysis of Oral Behaviour

Peter Suedfeld, University of British Columbia

The project investigates psychological aspects of isolation inherent to spaceflight. Using two Antarctic stations, it will develop unique tools and protocols to measure how people in an isolated, confined environment interact.

The results will identify early signs of distress or poor adaptation, so that interventions can begin quickly, to enhance wellbeing in spacecraft.

2) Bone Marrow Changes With Long-Duration Bed Rest: Impact on Target Organ and Personalized Rehabilitation

Guy Trudel, University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital

Conditions that remove load on the body adversely affect the bone marrow cell populations and their functions. In microgravity and during prolonged bed rest, the bone marrow gains fat cells limiting the volume available to blood-forming cells-of absolute importance for survival.

This can lead to anemia, amongst other conditions.

3) Prevention of Skeletal Muscle Deconditioning During Bed Rest With Targeted Micronutrient Supplementation

Bernard Jasmin, University of Ottawa

Microgravity has detrimental effects on the structure and function of skeletal muscle. Muscle atrophy is associated with reduced quality of life and decreased life expectancy. The study seeks to understand the genetic, cellular and molecular aspects behind muscle atrophy, and its relationship to inactivity.

The findings will be used to develop new ways to address and prevent deterioration of muscle mass during space travel.

4) Effects of Bed Rest Immobilization on Cardio-Postural Control and Regulation

Andrew Blaber, Simon Fraser University

Astronauts often experience dizziness and light-headedness upon standing after landing, which could lead to fainting and falls. This research investigates the interactions between the control of posture muscle contractions and the regulation of the heart and blood vessels in response to blood pressure changes upon standing.

Over the long term, the research outcomes will be applied to the design of countermeasures for astronauts.