Astronauts are not just for colonizing Mars and landing on the Moon. International Space Station missions, called expeditions, usually last about six months, and there are three to six crew members on board at all times, all days of the week, 24/7. So you know what that means - new crews bring new missions!
One of NASA’s latest missions include new research into the bone and muscle loss that happens in orbit.
When in space, astronauts can quickly lose their bone and muscle mass, because they aren’t using their bodies to fight the pull of gravity the way we do here on Earth. As the saying goes: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Astronauts spend hours every day exercising to try and avoid this problem, and that exercise does help, but they still lose a lot of bone density and muscle mass. So, on this mission, the crew will be testing an antibody that may be able to to prevent muscle and bone loss.
The antibody has already worked with mice on Earth, and now they’ll be testing it on mice in space. Mice lose muscle and bone just like we do in space, so they’re a good model.
And in both mice and humans, the key to preventing muscle loss may be stopping the production of a protein called myostatin. Myostatin is helpful to us on Earth, because it stops our muscles from growing and growing and growing. But in space, it’d be handy to inhibit myostatin, at least a little bit, so that more muscle will grow.
The hope is that the mice will be able to keep their muscles even while they’re in space.
The crew will also be trying out some new exercise equipment.
See, the exercise machines that astronauts use now are pretty big and bulky, and take up lots of the limited space on the ISS. NASA hopes to shrink down the exercise equipment with the new Miniature Exercise Device II - or MED-2, for short (pictured below).
It’s basically a small and light rowing machine with a motor that resists the astronaut’s pull. It can also be used to simulate a deadlift. And it’s pretty tiny as far as exercise machines go.
At the end of all of this, we may just have some additional data on how humans lose muscle bass and bone density in near-zero gravity. But as most experiments on the ISS go, the ultimate goal is to use this new information and apply it to treating humans on Earth.
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Source: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest on the subject. Green, Hank. "The Next ISS Experiments." SciShow Space, YouTube. 18 March 2016. Web video.
"Astronauts Answer Student Questions." Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, NASA. Web article. Accessed 16 Sept, 2018.
Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "New Missions Aboard the ISS are Working to Improve Atrophy." SkyFeed. 17 Sept, 2018. Web article.