Research into the human physiology of weightlessness
Next Generation Short-Arm Human Centrifuge (:envihab)
The short-arm centrifuge :envihab at DLR in Cologne offers possibilities to carry out physical training for the purposes of maintaining fitness levels under variable gravity conditions. In (AGBRESA, the centrifuge is used to test whether it can be used to counteract the negative effects of weightlessness.
The beds are angled downwards towards the head end by six degrees
The slight inclination of the beds ensures that thebody fluids - as with the astronauts in weightlessness - in the direction of the head.
The short-arm human centrifuge rotates, generating artificial gravity for the test subjects
Up to four test candidates can be accelerated simultaneously at up to 6G on the ends of the centrifuge arms, providing unique conditions for experiments; these include developing training measures for astronauts to remain in a microgravity environment for prolonged periods. Complex sequences of movements in hypergravity can be recorded with high precision while remotely operated medical experiments are conducted. Doctors continuously monitor the test subjects during experiments on the centrifuge.
If astronauts are to live for long periods in space, on the Moon or on Mars in the future, effective countermeasures must be developed to deal with the negative effects of weightlessness and reduced gravity. In a zero-gravity environment, muscles and bones atrophy significantly, body fluids shift to the upper body, and there is less strain placed on the whole cardiovascular system, which then loses efficiency. In a nutshell, the degenerative process speeds up in space compared with what would happen on Earth.
Research into the human physiology of weightlessness is important not just for astronauts to maintain their health and fitness in space, but also for people on Earth. This is why space medicine can be just as valuable as research into health on Earth.
Lying in bed for the sake of science
Bedrest studies are considered to be the gold standard in space medical research when it comes to simulating the effect of weightlessness on the human body on Earth. The impact on the test subjects’ bodies during long-term bedrest studies are comparable to those experienced by astronauts in space. Depending on the research topic, initially simulating aspects on Earth, where the conditions are easier to control can bring advantages.
DLR has gathered a wealth of experience in the area of short-term and long-term bedrest studies. Launched in 2019, the Artificial Gravity Bed Rest Study (AGBRESA) is the first long-term bedrest study jointly conducted by DLR, NASA and ESA. In the :envihab research facility at DLR’s site in Cologne, researchers are using a short-arm human centrifuge for the first time to test whether artificial gravity can counteract bone and muscle atrophy.
Sleepless at DLR – Fatigued in the interest of researchThe alarm clock rings mercilessly at 07:00 sharp. Get up, shower, breakfast! Half asleep after a night that was far too short, we make our way to work in the midst of rush hour traffic and do not feel fully awake until after the second cup of coffee. Does that sound familiar?
'SpaceCOT' study – conditions like those on the International Space StationFor 28 hours, six subjects will remain lying down and tilted at 12 degrees so their heads are lower than their legs. At times, they live and sleep in a carbon dioxide enriched atmosphere. With the 'SpaceCOT' study, researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the US National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) are investigating how the human brain and eyes are affected by the shift of body fluids towards the head as well as the increased carbon dioxide content in the air.
'Terrestrial astronauts' for 60 daysFor the next few weeks, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) :envihab research facility will be home to 12 men in good health, aged between 20 and 45 years. The men are test subjects for a long-term bedrest study – they will be confined to bedrest for two months with two weeks of experimental investigations and tests. Their beds will be tilted at an angle of six degrees below the horizontal, so that their bodily fluids shift towards the upper body; the bones and muscles in their lower part of their bodies will lose strength as a result of the lack of movement. “In this way we simulate the effects of microgravity on the human body,” says Edwin Mulder, leader of the study and a scientist at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, about the study, which is being carried out by DLR on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). “Our volunteers are, so to speak, terrestrial astronauts.” Half of the test subjects will undergo reactive jump training several times a week, which involves lying on a specially positioned training device. “We want to see whether this very intensive training can be an effective countermeasure to the deterioration of the bones and muscles.”
Learning by resting – in space on EarthOn 25 March 2019 the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the US space agency NASA, will launch AGBRESA (Artificial Gravity Bed Rest Study) – their first joint long-term bed-rest study.