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NASA Selects Four Proposals to Support Health and Performance in Astronauts on Missions to the Moon and Mars

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Tuesday, September 3, 2019

NASA is working to answer questions about astronaut health and performance for future long-duration missions to the Moon and on to Mars. The agency’sHuman Research Program (HRP) will fund four proposals to evaluate countermeasures that prevent or mitigate the signs and symptoms associated with Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS), a spectrum of alterations in the eye that can affect the vision of astronauts. SANS is one of the high-priority risks that NASA is addressing as it plans future missions beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA will return astronauts to the Moon with the Artemis program by 2024 as a stepping stone to prepare for human exploration of Mars.

 

The selected proposals will help NASA better understand the physiological changes associated with SANS and evaluate the possible benefits of mechanical and non-mechanical countermeasures on human health in response to the detrimental effects of spaceflight, as simulated in a bed rest analog. Analogs provide conditions that are comparable to spaceflight; in this case, the incline of the patients and their immobility mimics some of the physiological effects observed in astronauts due to microgravity. All of the selected studies by NASA will be conducted in the :envihab facility located in Cologne, Germany at the German Aerospace Center Institute for Aerospace Medicine. The :envihab is a state of the art facility for conducting ground-based research in support of spaceflight. Subjects will undergo 30 days of bed rest at a 6 degree head-down tilt during the study. This will mimic microgravity giving researchers a way to study the effects of pressure on astronauts’ eyes and optic nerve in space. They will be ambulatory for two weeks prior to and after bed rest for baseline data collections and recovery after bed rest.

 

Among the studies, Alex Huang, Assistant Professor at Doheny Eye Institute, will explore the use of aerobic exercise and venous thigh cuff inflation as a countermeasure to SANS. Bryn Martin, Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho, will use novel non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging protocols and post-processing techniques to study the mechanisms and contributing risk factors associated with SANS. Gary Strangman, Director of the Neural Systems Group at Massachusetts General Hospital, will relate neurophysiological changes to cognitive, sleep, mood and ocular measures. Sara Zwart, Senior Scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, will investigate B-vitamin supplementation as a countermeasure to optic disc edema.

 

The selected proposals are from four institutions in four states and will receive a total of approximately $2.7 million during a three-year period. The four projects were selected from 15 proposals received in response to the 2018 Human Exploration Research Opportunities (HERO) Appendix C.  Science and technology experts from academia, government, and industry reviewed the proposals.

 

For a complete list of the selected proposals, principal investigators and organizations please see https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-selects-four-proposals-to-support-health-and-performance-in-astronauts-on-missions-to-moon-mars.

 

The Human Research Program works to address the practical problems of spaceflight that impact astronaut health, and its research may provide knowledge and technologies that could improve human health and performance during space exploration and aid the development of potential countermeasures for problems experienced during space travel. The organization’s goals are to help astronauts complete their challenging missions successfully and to preserve their long-term health. 

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