Astronaut health research launches

Newly announced research backed by the UK Space Agency aims to solve challenges such as muscle loss and isolation stress faced by astronauts during long missions.

The research, which uses the low gravity (microgravity) environment of the International Space Station and other facilities that provide similar conditions to space, could also potentially benefit people who suffer from the likes of muscle degeneration or back pain, the agency said.

It is well known that the effects of space travel take a toll on the bodies of astronauts, while in microgravity their weight-bearing bones lose on average 1-1.5% of mineral density per month. To counteract this, they currently need to exercise for two-and-a-half hours every day, take nutrient supplements, and consume high-protein diets to maintain muscle mass while in space. Without these interventions, astronauts could experience up to a 20% loss of muscle mass on spaceflights lasting between five and 11 days.

The five new projects, set to receive a share of £440,000 of UK Space Agency funding, will support much longer space missions needed to explore the Moon and further afield. They include an initiative from Manchester Metropolitan University to study the prolonged effects of isolation on physical and psychological health, and a research project from Northumbria University to investigate the relationship between microgravity and spinal health.