NASA Selects Two Proposals to Support Health and Performance in Astronauts on Missions to the Moon and Mars

NASA has awarded approximately $2 million for two new research proposals to help answer questions about astronaut health and performance during future long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The proposals will investigate biological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations to spaceflight using multiple International Space Station flights and Earth-based studies to contribute to NASA’s preparations for crewed missions to the Moon and eventually Mars as part of the Artemisprogram.

The selected proposals will receive a total of approximately $2 million during a three- to six-year period. The projects, from two institutions in two different states, were selected from 23 proposals received in response to the 2018 Human Exploration Research Opportunities Appendix D, which solicited for projects investigating cardiovascular adaptations to long-duration spaceflight and for projects studying individual and team problem-solving skills training for exploration missions.

Benjamin Levine, professor of Internal Medicine and Cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, will determine the effect of progressive durations of spaceflight on coronary anatomy and physiology, which relates to the arteries that surround the heart, and identify biomarkers that may be useful for early detection of accelerated atherosclerosis, a narrowing of arteries. Dr. Levine’s project will be incorporated into a complement of studies previously selected by NASA that will examine a variety of physiological systems including the brain, eyes, sensorimotor, musculoskeletal, bone, and immune among others.

Aleksandra Stankovic, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, will determine in spaceflight-analog settings on Earth how problem-solving skills are developed and used across a variety of operational tasks and situations relevant to future long-duration missions. The research is expected to identify which individual and team skills are most important to perform tasks in both normal and emergency conditions as well.

NASA is planning International Space Station expeditions of varying lengths. In 2015 and 2016, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent nearly a year in space to help scientists understand how the human body responds to longer expeditions away from Earth. In February, Astronaut Christina Koch will return to Earth after spending more than 300 days in space. NASA expects to conduct future yearlong missions. The selected research projects will use future missions of varying lengths to help NASA establish temporal profiles of human physiological, behavioral, and psychological variables of importance for the maintenance of human health and performance during future long-duration deep space missions.

The selected projects are funded through NASA’s Human Research Program, which works to address the challenges of spaceflight that impact astronaut health. The research may provide knowledge and technologies that could improve human health and performance during space exploration and aid the development of potential countermeasures for problems experienced during space travel. The projects were chosen by science and technology experts from academia, government and industry who reviewed the proposals.

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