space travel gifts Many challenges, not the least of which are related to the health and safety of astronauts. And the further away from these tasks, a landthe more important it becomes.
Outside the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, there is a danger of long-term exposure to the sun and the universe radiation. But while radiation exposure can be mitigated with proper protection, there are a few strategies available to deal with another major risk: long-term exposure to microgravity.
On-board International Space Station (ISS), astronauts rely on a strict regimen of exercise and resistance training to mitigate physiological effects. They include muscle atrophy, loss of bone density, organ function, eyesight, and effects on cardiovascular health, gene expression, and the central nervous system.
But recently NASA study He revealed that long-duration missions to Mars and other locations in deep space must be equipped with artificial gravity. This study examined the effects microgravity On fruit flies aboard the International Space Station (ISS) the installed artificial gravity provides partial protection against these changes.
Artificial gravity to the rescue
The study was conducted by researchers from institutions such as the Department of Space Biological Sciences at the NASA Ames Research Center, the COSMIAC Research Center at the University of New Mexico, and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). Their findings were published September 6 in the journal cell reports.
In this study, the team conducted a month-long investigation using the Multi-Variable Gravity Platform (MVP), a commercial centrifuge-based test platform that arrived at the International Space Station in 2019. This experiment has distinctive compartments and provides the flies with fresh food as they live and reproduce.
This allowed the team to house different generations of flies separately and under different levels of gravity, with one exposed to microgravity (like their counterparts from astronauts aboard the International Space Station) and the other exposed to Earth-like gravity (9.8 m/s).2or 1 g).
The research team then monitored their behavior using the device’s built-in cameras. At various points, some of the flies were frozen and brought back to the ground for analysis to see how different levels of gravity affected gene expression and its effect on their nervous systems. as such Janani Ayera USRA project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, explains in a recent NASA press release:
Microgravity poses risks to the central nervous system, suggesting that countermeasures may be necessary for prolonged space travel. As we return to the Moon and back to Mars, limiting the harmful effects of microgravity will be key to keeping future explorers safe. This study is a step in the right direction to explore the protective effects of artificial gravity in space and to understand adaptation to Earth conditions after returning from space. “
Why fruit flies?
Fruit flies are the ideal organism for this type of research because of their similarity to humans in terms of cellular and molecular processes, their short lifespans, and reproductive cycles (two months and two weeks, respectively).
Fruit flies share approximately 75 percent of the genes that cause disease in humans, which means that changes in gene expression will resemble potential changes in humans. In addition, the three weeks they spend in space equate to about thirty years of a human life, allowing scientists to monitor decades of biological information in a short period of time.
Once the experiment was complete, the flies were returned to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule and transferred to NASA Ames for further analysis. For two days, the scientists conducted behavioral and biochemical tests on these “flying pioneers,” which consisted of observing their movements within their habitat, cellular changes in their brains, how changes in gene expression affect their nervous systems, and more.
They then combined their observations with footage from the MVP’s cameras and compared the results to a control group that remained on the ground.
Among the behaviors studied, the scientists examined how the flies climbed up the walls of their container – a natural response that fruit flies have when pressed. They found that flies in microgravity were more active than flies exposed to artificial gravity but had difficulty during the climbing test upon return to Earth.
Post-flight analysis also revealed that flies exposed to microgravity experienced neurological changes, while those exposed to artificial gravity aged differently and faced less severe challenges in acclimatization once they returned.
Planning for future trips
These results indicate that spaceflight causes stress that leads to negative behavioral and neurological effects, as well as changes in gene expression in the fly brain. They also suggest that artificial gravity can mitigate these effects during spaceflight, although there are still long-term challenges when it comes to reacclimatization on Earth.
While these results cannot accurately predict effects on human health, they provide an approximation and a good starting point for future research. As Dr. Siddhita Mahatri, Senior Scientist at KBR Wyle at Ames and author of the paper, summarized:
“With upcoming long-duration deep space missions, where astronauts will be exposed to varying levels of gravity, it is imperative that we understand the effects of altered gravity on neural function. If we can use artificial gravity to delay space-related deficits, perhaps we can extend future mission timelines. And flies will help in space, along with the astronauts, to advance our efforts in keeping astronauts healthy.”
NASA is currently investigating centrifuges and artificial gravity for space stations and missions to deep space. Examples include a NASA concept study titled “Non-Air Global Transportation Dedicated to Extended US Exploration(NAUTILUS-X), a rotating ring-shaped unit that provides artificial gravity.
NASA further suggested that the demonstration unit ( ISS experimental centrifuge) could become the sleeping module for the International Space Station crew. This unit measures 9.1 m (30 ft) in diameter, has an internal diameter of 0.76 m (2.5 ft), and provides 0.08 to 0.51 g from partial gravity.
It was also intended to provide a proof of concept for a larger hoop that could be integrated into a potential spacecraft known as the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). This concept and similar research studies highlight the importance of astronaut health and safety measures for long-duration spaceflight.
As NASA and other space agencies send astronauts to the Moon (to stay this time) and pursue manned missions to Mars and beyond, artificial gravity may become a regular feature of spacecraft, space stations, and even surface habitats.