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NASA gives artificial gravity a new spin
J.D. Harrington/Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington April 28, 2005
Johnson Space Center, Houston
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
NASA GIVES ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY A NEW SPIN
NASA will use a new human centrifuge to explore artificial gravity as a
way to counter the physiologic effects of extended weightlessness for future
The new research will begin this summer at the University of Texas Medical
Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, overseen by NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in
Houston. A NASA-provided Short-Radius Centrifuge will attempt to protect
normal human test subjects from deconditioning when confined to strict bed
Bed rest can closely imitate some of the detrimental effects of
weightlessness on the body. For the first time, researchers will
systematically study how artificial gravity may serve as a countermeasure to
prolonged simulated weightlessness.
"The Vision for Space Exploration includes destinations beyond the moon,"
said Dr. Jeffrey Davis, director of JSC's Space Life Sciences Directorate.
"This artificial gravity research is an important step in determining if
spacecraft design options should include artificial gravity. The
collaboration between NASA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UTMB
and Wyle Laboratories demonstrates the synergy of government, academic and
industry partnerships," he added.
For the initial study this summer, 32 test subjects will be placed in a
six-degree, head-down, bed-rest position for 21 days to simulate the effects
of microgravity on the body. Half that group will spin once a day on the
centrifuge to determine how much protection it provides from the bed-rest
deconditioning. The "treatment" subjects will be positioned supine in the
centrifuge and spun up to a force equal to 2.5 times Earth's gravity at
their feet for an hour and then go back to bed.
"The studies may help us to develop appropriate prescriptions for using a
centrifuge to protect crews and to understand the side effects of artificial
gravity on people," said Dr. Bill Paloski, NASA principal scientist in JSC's
Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office and principal investigator for
the project. "In the past, we have only been able to examine bits and
pieces. We've looked at how artificial gravity might be used as a
countermeasure for, say, cardiovascular changes or balance disorders. This
will allow us to look at the effect of artificial gravity as a
countermeasure for the entire body," he added.
The research will take place in UTMB's NIH-sponsored General Clinical
Research Center. The study supports NASA's Artificial Gravity Biomedical
"Physicians and scientists from all over the world will travel to UTMB to
study the stresses that spaceflight imposes on cardiovascular function, bone
density, neurological activity and other physiological systems," said Dr.
Adrian Perachio, executive director of strategic research collaborations at
UTMB. "This is an excellent example of collaboration among the academic,
federal and private sectors in research that will benefit the health of both
astronauts and those of us on Earth," he added.
The centrifuge was built to NASA specifications by Wyle Laboratories in El
Segundo, Calif. It was delivered to UTMB in August 2004 and will complete
design verification testing, validation of operational procedures and
verification of science data this spring. The centrifuge has two arms with a
radius of 10 feet (3 meters) each. The centrifuge can accommodate one
subject on each arm.
Paloski has assembled a team of 24 investigators who designed the study. The
first integrated research program is expected to end in the fall of 2006.
The NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Headquarters, Washington,
is supporting this research. For still imagery of the centrifuge is on the
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