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Major Tom for Microgravity
astronauts to Mars and
back requires more than a feat of rocketry. It takes a thorough understanding
of how the entire human body responds to long-term space travel. We do
not know enough to declare that its safe and its worth the risk for
humans to do this, says Dr. Martin Kushmerick M63 Gr66. NASA will
not send people on a suicide mission. To shed some light on this key
question, Kushmerick has been named leader of the newly formed Integrated
Human Function Team of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.
Kushmerick, a joint professor in the departments of radiology, physiology
and biophysics and bioengineering at the University of Washington, is
overseeing research projects of five institutions, including the University
of Pennsylvania Health System. The teams initial focus will be on the
heart and skeletal muscle, with plans to eventually integrate research
data about all of the bodys systems, from the molecular level on up.
have a pretty good understanding of how many calories you need to eat
for [long-duration space travel], Kushmerick explains, but we dont
have an understanding of the major changes that occur and the tremendous
muscular atrophy, the tremendous loss of bone calcium and structure as
well as the alterations in the cardiovascular system.
of patients at bed rest suggest that muscular atrophy and other changes
are appropriate physiological adaptations to the new environment, Kushmerick
says. So right away, this is a somewhat new idea. Before, there was the
idea that this was a kind of maladaptation that had to be prevented. Well,
thats bad medicine. What we want to do is facilitate the bodys normal
responses to these things. The best we can do is understand why and how
they happen and devise countermeasures to alter the physical environment
to make sure these changes are reversed [upon return from space].
team is trying to determine what exercises or stresses might counteract
muscle-loss in space. Researchers are investigating the use of exercises
similar to the kind that top body-builders perform, such as lowering a
weight heavier than one can actually lift. Coupled with certain drugs,
Kushmerick says, this might solve the problem.
team is looking at treatments for heart arrhythmias, which required one
of the former captains of the Mir to be brought down from the Russian
space station. Although there are drugs to treat this potentially fatal
condition, Kushmerick said, we dont really understand how those drugs
work and if there are differences in space versus on the ground.
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