A new study into the potential of artificial gravity to help astronauts stay healthy in space is now in full swing, or should that be spin?
Phase one of the 60-day bedrest study, commissioned by ESA and NASA and carried out by German Aerospace Center DLR, began at DLR’s ‘:envihab’ medical research and rehabilitation facility in Cologne, Germany, on Monday 25 March.
The study is the first of its kind to be conducted in partnership between ESA and NASA. It is also the first to employ DLR’s short-arm centrifuge (shown in this image) as a way of recreating gravity for participants.
Each of the 12 male and 12 female participants will lie in beds with their heads tilted 6° below horizontal for 60 consecutive days. Medical researchers will oversee them and ensure one of their shoulders is touching the mattress at all times.
As blood flows to their heads and muscle is lost from underuse, researchers will investigate changes and test techniques from diet to physical exercise.
Artificial gravity is one of the techniques under the spotlight this time around. Once a day, a selection of the study’s participants will be moved to the centrifuge to encourage blood to flow back towards their feet and allow researchers to understand the potential of artificial gravity in combating the effects of weightlessness.
A number of different experiments, carried out over the course of the study, will look at cardiovascular function, balance and muscle strength, metabolism and cognitive performance among other factors.
Seven of these experiments will be conducted by European-led research groups, with a view to validating the findings on the International Space Station during future missions.