Micro-gravity a health hazard for astronauts: research

Oct 02, 2009 By Dan Gaffney
astronaut

(PhysOrg.com) -- UNSW researchers may have pinpointed the cause of muscle wasting and bone-density loss experienced by astronauts who fly lengthy missions under the weightless conditions of space.

Australian scientists may have pinpointed the cause of muscle wasting and loss experienced by who fly lengthy missions under the weightless conditions of space, new research reveals.

University of New South Wales researchers used a NASA rotating-wall vessel to reproduce , which is experienced by astronauts in low Earth orbit, to analyse its effect on human .

Seventy five per cent of the proteins from the cells exposed to microgravity were not found in those grown under normal gravity. The microgravity-exposed cells produced more proteins that negatively regulate bone density and fewer proteins with antioxidant effects. Antioxidants protect the body from reactive oxidants that can damage DNA.

"The finding may explain loss of bone density and muscle wasting experienced by astronauts," says Dr Brendan Burns, a UNSW biologist who led the study with researchers Elizabeth Blaber and Helder Marcal.

"A lot of work has been done on microgravity at a systemic level, such as the effects on the immune system. No-one has really looked at the effect of microgravity at a cellular level and we think that is a huge gap.

"What we've found is a range of different proteins that are potentially important for astronaut health were more or less predominant in terms of different gravity."

NASA has hinted at plans to construct a solar-powered outpost at one the Moon's poles by 2024. The base would permit sustained human presence on the Moon, which would serve as a staging post for future missions to Mars and beyond.

But prolonged exposure to microgravity would pose increased health risks to astronauts. The absence of normal Earth gravity causes physiological changes, such as bone loss, muscle atrophy and loss of blood volume, which could cause astronauts to feel lightheaded and dizzy once they arrive at the surface of Mars after a long voyage.

It has long been known that microgravity affects bone density but so far nobody has pinpointed the genes and proteins that are affected by microgravity which might promote this condition. Research aimed at understanding the effects of microgravity on human physiology could assist the development of health and safety practices for astronauts.

The research is being presented this week in Sydney at the 9th Australian Space Sciences Conference.

Provided by University of New South Wales (news : web)

Explore further: NASA craft set to beam home close-ups of Pluto

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Space Station Astronaut Records Muscle Activity for Study

Aug 03, 2005

Expedition 11 NASA ISS Science Officer John Phillips conducted his fourth session of the Foot/Ground Reaction Forces during Spaceflight, or FOOT experiment. Phillips wore the instrumented Lower Extremity Monitoring Suit, ...

Nanobacteria: Astronauts at Highest Risk During Space Missions

Feb 25, 2005

NASA researchers announce a potential cause of rapid kidney stone formation in astronauts on space travels. The authors of a study published in Kidney International call for a "Major Initiative" to investigate nanobacteria. Nanobacteria (NB ...

NASA Buying Microgravity Flights from Zero-G

Jun 15, 2005

NASA researchers will conduct experiments later this year on two near-weightless flights operated by the Zero Gravity (Zero-G) Corporation of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Scientist-astronaut sends T-cells into space

Aug 30, 2006

A former astronaut and researcher at the San Francisco VA Medical Center will be traveling to the Cosmodrome space-launch site at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, this Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006, to prepare a crucial experiment designed ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries in Nili Fossae

5 minutes ago

These new images from the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express show Nili Fossae, one of the most enticing regions on Mars. This 'graben system' lies northeast of the volcanic region of Syrtis ...

Image: Jupiter's cratered moon, Callisto

30 minutes ago

The speckled object depicted here is Callisto, Jupiter's second largest moon. This image was taken in May 2001 by NASA's Galileo spacecraft, which studied Jupiter and its moons from 1995 until 2003.

Helicopter could be 'scout' for Mars rovers

35 minutes ago

Getting around on Mars is tricky business. Each NASA rover has delivered a wealth of information about the history and composition of the Red Planet, but a rover's vision is limited by the view of onboard ...

Spacecraft Integral manoeuvres for the future

2 hours ago

Since 2002, ESA's Integral spacecraft has been observing some of the most violent events in the Universe, including gamma-ray bursts and black holes. While it still has years of life ahead, its fuel will ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.