Mars Holiday, a Pricey Bonecruncher

Aug 23, 2004
Two months in bed . . . surfing the net is the only release for bedrest volunteers.

A space traveller's dream of one day holidaying on Mars might sound appealing, but it would be a one-way-trip.

Not only would it take years to reach the Red Planet but our bones, muscles and joints would crumble under gravity on return to Earth.

UQ researchers have shown the harsh realities of space travel and its toll on the human body using results from a European Space Agency bedrest study.

A group of 19 “terrestrial astronauts” were kept isolated in hospital beds in Berlin for eight weeks to mimic a weightless environment.

They were not able to get up to brush their teeth, bathe or go to the toilet.

Several international researchers took part in the study with UQ physiotherapists Associate Professor Carolyn Richardson, Dr Julie Hides and senior engineering lecturer Dr Stephen Wilson responsible for analysing muscle dysfunction around the spine and pelvis.

Using magnetic resonance images of muscle, the UQ researchers revealed that most of the group’s stability muscles, used for protecting bones and joints, had deteriorated.

Most of the volunteers put on weight, some up to 7kg and even though they were gradually lifted out of bed, many of them were lightheaded and unbalanced.

Only volunteers that were given whole body vibrations and resistive exercise in bed kept their bone density.

Associate Professor Richardson said the bedrest results were significant because they proved that the same pattern of muscle dysfunction in back pain, developed when people unloaded their antigravity muscles by lying down.

Dr Hides said unloading of the antigravity muscles not overexertion was more likely the common cause of back pain.

People leading sedentary lifestyles, working in front of computers with bad postures and little movement was much to blame.

“If you’re sitting at a computer for 10 hours a day, those muscles that protect those joints are turned off,” Dr Hides said.

UQ’s physiotherapy team is continuing to develop an exercise program that astronauts could use in space to improve their stabilising muscles and maintain bone density so they don’t suffer when their bodies readjust to gravity.

These exercise programs would also be beneficial to prevent low back pain on Earth.

Dr. Hides and Associate Professor Richardson have also had one of their back pain questionnaires go into space with a Dutch astronaut, who has recently returned from the International Space Station.

With a single trip to the station costing about $20 million, Dr Richardson said health might not be the only problem for potential space travellers.

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: European Data Relay System on track

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Laziness increases back pain risk

Jun 14, 2007

The researchers participated in the Agency's Berlin Bed-Rest Study, monitoring 20 healthy, young men who spent 56 days lying in bed.

Recommended for you

Hubble sees 'ghost light' from dead galaxies

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has picked up the faint, ghostly glow of stars ejected from ancient galaxies that were gravitationally ripped apart several billion years ago. The mayhem happened ...

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

16 hours ago

Several companies are developing spacecraft designed to take ordinary citizens, not astronauts, on short trips into space. "Space tourism" and short periods of weightlessness appear to be safe for most individuals ...

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

19 hours ago

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to ...

When did galaxies settle down?

20 hours ago

Astronomers have long sought to understand exactly how the universe evolved from its earliest history to the cosmos we see around us in the present day. In particular, the way that galaxies form and develop ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

drknowledge
1 / 5 (1) Apr 29, 2008
This article is, really, exceptionally poorly written, and it's difficult to understand what point the representatives of the study are making. Having worked next door to NASA Human Factors, I know that the some negative effects of no gravity and inactivity have been known for decades. But today's astronauts on the ISS don't work in conditions that are importantly similar to the original, seat-bound astronauts. The concluding statement (as quoted) from Dr. Richardson that "health might not be the only problem" sounds like an interpolation on the part of the reporter -- it's hard to even guess what the doctor had originally intended to say.

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.