Space Makes Astronauts Weak; This Suit Aims to Toughen Them Up

By Kendra Pierre-Louis on March 23, 2014 12:24 PM EDT

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 flight commander, exercising.
NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 flight commander, exercising.

Amid the excitement around the idea of a manned mission to Mars, a sad possibility exists, according to Dr. David Green, a senior lecturer of human and aerospace physiology at King's College London. In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Green says that, "When man takes the first small step on Mars, there is a strong possibility the space traveler could end up with a broken hip."

Like Us on Facebook

Green is part of a team of researchers who have developed skin-tight space suit designed to prevent a health problem unique to space travel — muscle loss and spine expansion.

While the zero gravity of space makes for some amazing acrobatic feats, the lack of gravity also takes a toll on an astronaut's body. Even during short stints — like lunar voyages or tottering around a space station — the lack of gravity has been found to weaken the immune system (astronauts have been known to experience reoccurrences of childhood bouts of the chicken pox) and even shrink muscles. A 2010 study of several astronauts' skeletal muscles before and after six-month space station voyages found that regardless of the physicality of the 30- to 50-year-old astronauts before departure, and despite the fact that space protocol requires two hours of exercise a day, they returned to earth with the musculature of an 80-year old. And though muscles wither and shrink, the spine painfully expands rendering your average astronaut roughly three inches taller in outer space than on Earth. While many of us wouldn't mind an added inch or two of added height, the spine's expansion could lead to long-term back and health problems. According to estimates, a trip to Mars would take three times as long — roughly 18 months there and back for a total of three years, putting tremendous strain on astronauts bodies and possibly rendering them all but ineffective upon arrival.

The project Dr. Green is working on uses designs developed at MIT, an international team of researchers, and both Italian and American tailors, to develop a suit composed of several layers of elastic material woven in two directions to gradually produce head-to-toe tension. Microgravity suits aren't new. Russian astronauts first began using the Pingvin exercise suit, or penguin suit, in the 70s, but astronauts complained it was uncomfortable and prone to overheating. And, perhaps most importantly, it didn't fully resolve the issues of muscle loss and spine expansion.

Dr. Green and his team hope that this suit will be more comfortable and more effective. And, like many space aged technologies it could have use on the ground as well — helping bedbound patients retain muscle mass. Such patients can lose as much as 15 percent of muscle mass in a single week.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Sponsored From Around the Web

    ZergNet
Follow iScience Times
us on facebook RSS
 
us on google
 
Most Popular
INSIDE iScience Times
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet  Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)