NASA Selects Seven Proposals To Support Astronaut Health On Missions To Mars

NASA astronaut Scot Kelly, Expedition 45 commander, performs research on fine motor skills aboard the International Space Station. Newly selected studies by the Human Research Program will examine countermeasures in mitigating the deleterious physiological and behavioral effects associated with long duration spaceflight. Image Credit: NASA

June 1, 2017 – NASA’s Human Research Program will fund seven proposals to help answer questions about astronaut health and performance during future long duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The selected proposals will investigate the impact of the space environment on various aspects of astronaut health, including behavioral health and performance, cardiovascular alterations, human factors and radiation effects. All of the selected projects will contribute to NASA’s long-term plans for deep space exploration, including to 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 develop potential countermeasures for problems experienced during space travel. The organizations’ goals are to help astronauts complete their challenging missions successfully and to preserve their long-term health. These studies often lead to advancements in understanding and treating illnesses in patients on Earth.

These investigations will take place in research laboratories as well as in ground-analog settings that mimic the spaceflight environment. Among the studies, David Goukassian, senior scientist at Temple University School of Medicine, will examine the effects of radiation on inflammation, oxidative damage, and structural and morphological changes in the heart.

Allison Anderson, assistant professor in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, will use virtual reality to enable efficient and rapid mock-up of spacecraft and habitat concepts for use in studies aimed at improving habitability of future space vehicles.

David Dinges, professor of psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, will conduct experimental studies to identify biological domains and behavioral domains that relate to individual adaptation and resiliency in spaceflight-relevant confined and extreme environments such as the Neumayer Research Station in Antarctica.

The selected proposals are from seven institutions in six states and will receive a total of approximately $5.7 million during a one- to four-year period. The seven projects were selected from 68 proposals received in response to the research announcements entitled, “Research and Technology Development to Support Crew Health and Performance in Space Exploration Missions.”

Science and technology experts from academia, government and industry reviewed the proposals. Three of the investigators are new to the Human Research Program.

The Human Research Program quantifies crew health and performance risks during spaceflight and develops strategies that mission planners and system developers can use to monitor and mitigate these risks.

The complete list of the selected proposals, principal investigators and organizations is below:

  • Allison Anderson, University of Colorado Boulder, “Interactive Space Vehicle Design Tool with Virtual Reality”

  • Marjan Boerma, University of Arkansas, “Effects of Chronic and Single-Dose Charged Particle Exposure on Cardiac Function and Structure in Multiple Animal Models”

  • Dorothy Carter, University of Georgia, “Project FUSION: Facilitating Unified Systems of Interdependent Organizational Networks”

  • David Dinges, University of Pennsylvania, “NSCOR for Evaluating Risk Factors and Biomarkers for Adaptation and Resilience to Spaceflight: Emotional Valence and Social Processes in ICC/ICE Environments”

  • David Goukassian, Temple University, “Degenerative Cardiovascular Disease Risks Due to Single HZE or Mixed Ion Radiation”

  • John Lawler, Texas A&M University, “Attenuation of Space Radiation-induced Pro-oxidant and Fibrotic Signaling in the Heart by Nutritional and Genetic Interventions: Adventures in Tissue Sharing”

  • Carolyn Suzuki, Rutgers University, “Tissue Sharing Project – Effects of Space Radiation on the Cardiac Mitochondrial Stress Response”