Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Centrifuge Simulates Gravity for Astronauts

New Centrifuge Simulates Gravity for Astronauts
It could stop bone and muscle mass loss

By Tudor Vieru, Science Editor

23rd of July 2009, 09:02 GMT

Astronauts lose a lot of bone and muscle mass on extended stays in space
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Ever since astronauts started spending prolonged periods of time in space, on space stations, for instance, it has become obvious to space agencies that the effects of microgravity on the human body are to be reckoned with. The longer the stay, the greater the loss of bone and muscle mass that the astronauts report. Now, experts have finally devised a mechanism to counteract the effects of low gravity. The NASA centrifuge simulates 2.5Gs of pull on users, and utilizing it requires only one hour per day. The human testing was conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston.

The research bears enormous meaning to future space exploration missions, which could see people sent to Mars inside spaceships. With more than a year of traveling in zero-gravity, and another one on the way back, the astronauts that would undertake such an enterprise could find themselves upon their return unable to stand up or walk. Already, ISS commanders that remain on the station for six months exhibit large problems with adapting to Earth's gravity all over again, and need therapy to help them.

The NASA centrifuge that was recently tested works by spinning people, positioned with their feet outwards, about 30 times each minute, a rotation every two seconds. In the experiments they conducted on “pillownauts,” experts at the University of Texas determined that just one hour of exercise with the centrifuge was enough to restore muscle synthesis, ScienceDaily informs.

Pillownauts are people aiding NASA in understanding the effects of microgravity. They remain in bed for months on end, with their bodies angled in such a manner that they mimic the effects of reduced gravity and prolonged space stays. If the centrifuge works on them, then it will most likely work on the real astronauts too, the scientists behind the research believe.

“This gives us a potential countermeasure that we might be able to use on extended space flights and solve a lot of the problems with muscle wasting. This small amount of loading, one hour a day of essentially standing up, maintained the potential for muscle growth,” Douglas Paddon-Jones, an associate professor at the university, explains. He has also been the senior author of a new paper detailing the find, published in the July issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology.

“We've studied elderly inpatients here at UTMB – 95 percent of the time they're completely inactive, and in three days they lose more than a kilogram of muscle. A human centrifuge may not be the answer, but we are interested in seeing if something as simple as increasing the amount of time our patients spend standing and moving can slow down this process. This NASA research is one of a series of important studies that we hope to ultimately translate to a clinical population,” he concludes.


Jason said...

tossers! u could have told them that about 15 years ago"!

Andrew K Fletcher said...

I did tell them Jase.

They asked how could we overcome the gravity problem. I said a low velocity centrifuge is the only way to begin to address the lack of gravity in space travel and how it affects the body.