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Normal muscle fibers in the top picture, and muscle fibers from an astronaut who spent time in space in the second picture  (Source: NASA)
NASA and university researchers look for new ways to keep astronauts healthy in space

A study recently published in The Journal of Applied Physiology indicates astronauts launched into orbit must alter their physical workout regime so they can reduce the amount of muscle loss while in space.

Astronauts normally stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for six-month durations, and NASA continues to look for ways astronauts can maintain their cardiovascular system, along with bone and skeletal muscles.

Despite exercise while in space, astronauts still lost 15 percent of their muscle mass and around 20 to 30 percent of muscle performance loss after long durations in space, according to research done by NASA, HPL, and the Marquette University bioscience department.

"By clinical standards, this is a massive loss," Ball State University Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) director Scott Trappe recently said.  "This approaches what we see in aging populations in comparisons of a 20-year-old versus an 80-year-old. This poses risks to the crewmembers and could have a dramatic impact on locomotion and overall health, which would impact a variety of crewmembers' activities including future goals of planetary exploration."

Researchers gathered information about astronauts' muscle characteristics by using MRIs and muscle biopsies both before and after long duration stays in space.  Previous research indicates astronauts also have issues with the density and strength of their bones after returning to Earth from the ISS.

Even though working in zero gravity for such long durations is detrimental to the human body, researchers are coming up with methods to help astronauts.

"From our bed rest studies, we found that when high-intensity resistance and aerobic exercise are balanced correctly, this is an effective prescription that is quite therapeutic in protecting skeletal muscles in a simulated microgravity environment. The next step is to apply what we have learned from the ISS experience and implement the next generation of exercise prescription programs into the space environment. Intensity wins, hands down."

Each astronaut stationed to the ISS now can make use of the Advanced Resistance Exercise Device (ARED), with doctors creating custom workout plans depending on the astronaut.

Since these are serious medical issues, expect more research to be done involving long-term space deployments, and how NASA and other space agencies can better prepare astronauts.  Several prominent space programs have plans to send astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars, which will again put a strong focus on astronaut health while in space.

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If spinning can produce artifical gravity..
By FishTankX on 4/10/2009 9:07:40 AM , Rating: 2
Why not have one room in the ISS spun quickly enough to produce near earth gravity, and have them work out there for an hour or two a day?

RE: If spinning can produce artifical gravity..
By Amiga500 on 4/10/2009 9:15:43 AM , Rating: 2
Even better than one room-

The obvious solution is to built any space station as a series of large hoops - then as you say spin the whole thing at a sufficient rotation speed to use the centrifugal force as a substitute for gravity. Therefore all work can be done in a "gravity well" = easier.

A separate wing can be built for zero gravity experiments.

RE: If spinning can produce artifical gravity..
By Justin Time on 4/10/2009 10:19:39 AM , Rating: 5
Problem is that the station would need to be HUGE to be workable - perhaps a 2km radius with a 1rpm rotation.

With a small radius there will be issues where you can detect "gravity" differences between your head and feet, which would make it too hard to work.

RE: If spinning can produce artifical gravity..
By AssBall on 4/10/2009 11:57:57 AM , Rating: 2
Alternatively, you could have a smaller station and no rings. Spin it around a central force point with a counterweight (like your nuclear and solar power plants). To dock with it easier, have a nonspinning section of the hub. It wouldn't have to spin that fast or be super huge to provide a fraction of 1gee.

By menace on 4/10/2009 2:00:21 PM , Rating: 3
With a faster rate of spin you have problems with vertigo. If you face the direction of spin then turn your head 90 degrees you are going to get disoriented.

By vailr on 4/10/2009 11:45:30 PM , Rating: 2
The Stanley Kubrick movie "2001 - A Space Odyssey" had something like that, in Earth orbit. That space station wasn't portrayed as being so big; maybe several hundred feet in diameter, as I recall...

By Seemonkeyscanfly on 4/10/2009 12:09:51 PM , Rating: 2
OK, I'm no Doctor and I do know these are un-healthy when used long term and heavy usage; however could you not use a small dose of steroids during the mission to help keep muscle? Also, bulking up a bit before the mission? This of course does not solve the problem of long term mission, say Mars and back.

By skeeter123 on 4/10/2009 5:10:32 PM , Rating: 2
Remember, the enemies gate is down.

By Goty on 4/12/2009 4:25:20 PM , Rating: 2
Conservation of angular momentum is an issue for a "free-floating" object.

Can I just ask...
By spuddyt on 4/10/2009 9:09:50 AM , Rating: 2
Do they get this muscle mass back once back on earth?

RE: Can I just ask...
By barrychuck on 4/10/2009 9:18:55 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, or they just become a sloth and mush around on the ground. Just being exposed to gravity is quite a workout.

No real news here
By menace on 4/10/2009 2:16:29 PM , Rating: 2
This has been known since the 70's. Six months is about as long as you can spend in zero G with current methods of exercise and without risk of permanent health problems. They will have to improve on this for manned Mars missions which require at least 12 months of zero G time.

Hard to recover
By kaborka on 4/10/2009 3:56:36 PM , Rating: 2
I had my leg in a cast for 7 weeks and a long recovery period from a ruptured achilles tendon. It's amazing how much strength I lost so quickly, and it's very hard to regain it, even working out every other day.

Automatic body building
By augiem on 4/10/2009 4:57:32 PM , Rating: 2
So would the reverse hold true I wonder? If you were somehow able to create an environment with higher gravity for people to live in for a few months at a time, I wonder if muscle mass would increase dramatically since it would be much harder to simply move around. If there tech were available, sounds like it would be a great spa retreat for all you skinny nerds reading Dailytech. j/k Increasing muscle mass would also burn more calories for people trying to lose weight.

By East17 on 4/13/2009 2:58:56 AM , Rating: 1
Good one ... A perfect fit for the Bush administration but ... Bush is gone now. Hopefuly, the Obama administration will restart the space race .

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