This is the equivalent of a 30- to 50-year-old crew member's muscles deteriorating to that of an 80-year-old. The destructive effects of extended weightlessness to skeletal muscle – despite in-flight exercise – pose a significant safety risk for future manned missions to Mars and elsewhere in the Universe.
An American study, led by Robert Fitts of Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), was recently published online by The Journal of Physiology and will be in the September printed issue. It comes at a time of renewed interest in Mars and increased evidence of early life on the planet. NASA currently estimates it would take a crew 10 months to reach Mars, with a 1 year stay, or a total mission of approximately 3 years.
Fitts, Chair and Professor of Biological Sciences at Marquette, believes if astronauts were to travel to Mars today their ability to perform work would be compromised and, with the most affected muscles such as the calf, the decline could approach 50%. Crew members would fatigue more rapidly and have difficulty performing even routine work in a space suit. Even more dangerous would be their return to Earth, where they'd be physically incapable of evacuating quickly in case of an emergency landing.
The study – the first cellular analysis of the effects of long duration space flight on human muscle – took calf biopsies of nine astronauts and cosmonauts before and immediately following 180 days on the International Space Station (ISS). The findings show substantial loss of fibre mass, force and power in this muscle group. Unfortunately starting the journey in better physical condition did not help. Ironically, one of the study's findings was that crew members who began with the biggest muscles also showed the greatest decline.
The results highlight the need to design and test more effective exercise countermeasures on the ISS before embarking on distant space journeys. New exercise programmes will need to employ high resistance and a wide variety of motion to mimic the range occurring in Earth's atmosphere.
Fitts doesn't feel scientists should give up on extended space travel. 'Manned missions to Mars represent the next frontier, as the Western Hemisphere of our planet was 800 years ago,' says Fitts. 'Without exploration we will stagnate and fail to advance our understanding of the Universe.'
In the shorter term, Fitts believes efforts should be on fully utilizing the International Space Station so that better methods to protect muscle and bone can be developed. 'NASA and ESA need to develop a vehicle to replace the shuttle so that at least six crew members can stay on the ISS for 6-9 months,' recommends Fitts. 'Ideally, the vehicle should be able to dock at the ISS for the duration of the mission so that, in an emergency, all crew could evacuate the station.'
The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences