Irish technologies to keep astronauts fit and healthy in space
Christer Fuglesang ESA astronaut exercising in space
Helping astronauts deal with ‘accelerated ageing’ and a lack of exercise in space are the focus of two European Space Agency research contracts awarded to Irish researchers.
The two European Space Agency (ESA) contracts totalling €135k won by Dr. Dónal O’Gorman, DCU and Dr. Brian Caulfield, UCD arises directly from Ireland’s membership of ESA and its Space Programme. Ireland’s membership of ESA is funded by the Irish Government and is managed by Enterprise Ireland. Membership of ESA enables Irish research institutes and companies to participate in ESA programmes and secure valuable contracts.
Congratulating the two researchers, Minister Sherlock said, “The awarding of ESA contracts to Irish researchers is further evidence of the leading role Ireland plays in pushing the boundaries of biomedical research for the European Human Spaceflight programme. We are seeing a growing number of Irish companies developing biomedical technologies with ESA support, which contributes to employment generation in Ireland and which can also benefit society here on Earth. The ESA space-related research in Ireland builds on the strategic investments that the Government has made in life sciences in the past decade through Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.”
Dr. Bryan Rodgers, Enterprise Ireland explained why this research is so important; “astronauts can be in space for up to 18 months on missions to Mars and on board the International Space Station and so they have to adapt to the specific challenges of life in space such as the absence of gravity, high levels of radiation, and cramped living conditions, which often result in deterioration of the astronauts’ heart, muscle and bone condition.
The research of Dr O’Gorman and Dr. Caulfield will address these issues and find solutions to enable astronauts to function healthily on critical missions. This research also has applications in the healthcare markets back here on Earth, as the characteristics of natural human aging are similar to those experienced by astronauts”.
The technology, developed by Galway based Biomedical Research Ltd (BMR) - suppliers of electrical muscle stimulation devices for the commercial market e.g. Slendertone® and Neurotech® - works by stimulating the large muscles of the legs. It has already produced impressive aerobic exercise training and muscle strengthening effects during ground-based studies, and offers a potential solution to the problem of how astronauts exercise aerobically in the confines of a spacecraft. The parabolic flight campaign provides an opportunity to test this technology in a zero gravity environment, similar to that experienced on the International Space Station.