NASA’s artificial gravity experiments could help astronaut health issues

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Nasa studies how artificial gravity protects against the adverse health effects of space travel on astronauts. Humans, and all species on Earth, have evolved to thrive in this planet’s environment, with gravity being an important component. Every second of human existence, the circulatory, digestive, and central nervous systems depend on fluids flowing downward due to gravitational pull. Muscles and bones also maintain a fundamental level of strength and endurance simply by pushing back against the Earth’s natural pull.

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When traveling to the Moon, Mars and other planets in space, astronauts will have to endure brutal conditions, which can lead to serious medical issues. Even while on the International Space Station, astronauts’ faces swell, their vision becomes blurry, their heart weakens, and they lose muscle and bone mass. Therefore, they are required to engage in strenuous physical activity for many hours each day in space, and they continue to be at risk for long-term health problems even after returning to Earth. Astronauts aboard the ISS exercise up to 2.5 hours a day and eat healthy to counter the effects of microgravity.

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Nasa studied how non-human species used in the laboratory are affected by the effects of space, including changes in gravity, radiation and more. Fruit flies are perfect for this study because their cellular and molecular processes overlap significantly with humans. The insects were transported to the ISS, where they were tested in a device that could hold flies at different levels of severity. One group was exposed to the weightless conditions of low Earth orbit, while the other group encountered the artificial gravity produced by the centrifugation of the enclosure. A third group remained on Earth as a control group.


Effects of artificial gravity on the nervous system

According Cell reports, After three weeks in space, the fruit flies were sent back to Earth for further examination, including cellular changes in their brains, gene expression and the effect of aging. Both groups of space-traveling flies exhibited symptoms of altered metabolism, cellular oxidative stress, and severe neurological effects. However, those maintained in artificial gravity appeared to be protected from certain neurological abnormalities, including neuronal loss, alterations in glial cell counts, oxidative damage and cell death.

Using artificial gravity can temporarily reduce the harsh effects of microgravity on a fruit fly’s neurological system. Since fruit flies and humans are very different organisms, despite their genetic similarities, these results cannot speak directly to what humans will experience during their life in space. However, it still paves the way for future research into protecting astronauts traveling to destinations with varying levels of severity. Nasa Scientists believe that artificial gravity could be the solution for safer, longer-term space missions. Dr Janani Iyer, author of the study, said: “As we return to the Moon and Mars, reducing 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 return from space.”

Source: Nasa, Cell reports

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