Colonising Mars research at Northumbria university gets Space Agency grant
Northumbria has received the largest amount at £283,000 with which it will look at ways to help humankind stay fit and healthy on the Moon with the long-term aim of colonising Mars.
Astronauts working in partial-gravity conditions, like on these planets, face an increased risk of spinal injury and reduced operational effectiveness, risking mission failure.
Professor Nick Caplan who is leading the university’s research team, are to work on mitigating injury risk and how their condition can be preserved by artificial gravity exposure or recovered through exercise programs.
Prof Caplan said: “Following current missions to the International Space Station, astronauts return to Earth in a physiologically deconditioned state, where they have immediate access to medical support.
“When astronauts travel to Mars, they will arrive with deconditioned bodies, with limited access to medical support. We need to develop effective countermeasures to tackle this deconditioning, to make sure astronauts stay fit and healthy.”
Earlier this month, the team from Northumbria’s Aerospace Medicine and Rehabilitation Laboratory visited Novespace in Bordeaux, France – which runs microgravity, airborne missions - to start planning their research as part of a partial-gravity parabolic flight campaign in June 2018.
The Northumbria team will complete 93 parabolas over three flights, where the gravity level will reduce by up to 75% of the Earth’s gravity.
The University team hopes their research, which was selected for the funding by the European Space Agency (ESA), will benefit the global aims of putting humans on the Moon again, as well as longer-term goals of humans colonising Mars.
It is one of a series where Northumbria University has collaborated with the European Space Agency’s Space Medicine Office to look at spinal muscle health.
This research will also help people who have similar spinal muscular changes to astronauts like low back pain, with spaceflight ageing the body about seven times faster than on Earth.
Prof Caplan said: “Our spinal muscles are known to become smaller and dysfunctional following extended periods of unloading, be it through actual or simulated spaceflight.“This deconditioning of the spinal antigravity muscles contributes to an increased injury risk to astronauts when they return to Earth’s gravity, where many must undergo a period of intense rehabilitation.”
Libby Jackson, Human Spaceflight and Microgravity Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the growing microgravity science community in this research.
“These exciting experiments will further our understanding of how the human body copes with the challenging environment of living and working in space, which in turn will help humans to carry out more research in space.”
Photo credit: NASA