Credit: Ashari/Hargens

If a crew is heading off to Mars, who wears the pants in this family of explorers?

It might be everyone given new research on a Mobile Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) Gravity Suit for Long-Duration Spaceflight.

The suit is the result of NASA-sponsored work led by Neeki Ashari and Alan Hargens, both with the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, California.

The research has recently been published in the journal, Frontiers in Physiology.

Credit: Ashari/Hargens

Reduced bone density, muscle force

On Earth, gravity is responsible for supplying resistance in our everyday life. But then there’s spaceflight-associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome, previously known as Visual Impairment Intracranial Pressure. It is a major risk associated with long-duration spaceflight.

Due to the lack of gravity in space travel, a headward shift of blood and other body fluids is caused. As a result, astronauts experience a mild, but constant elevation of intracranial pressure (ICP) unlike alterations of ICP with posture on Earth.

Also, long-term microgravity exposure is responsible for the reduction of mechanical loads, which reduce bone density, and muscle force generation.

Furthermore, an astronaut’s movement between modules, aerobic activity, and extra-vehicular activity components contribute to musculoskeletal injuries. This becomes a major concern as astronauts return from space to weight-bearing environments, such as Earth or even potentially Mars.

Credit: Ashari/Hargens

Wanted: effective techniques

In order to minimize musculoskeletal loss and injuries, it is essential to develop effective techniques that reproduce gravitational forces for microgravity conditions, Ashari and Hargens report.

The novel gravity suit serves as a countermeasure that may maintain cardiovascular, visual, and musculoskeletal health without sacrificing crew time. Astronauts will be able to float freely in microgravity while adhering to everyday tasks. The LBNP counteracts head-ward fluid shifts and generates ground-reaction forces.

Credit: Ashari/Hargens

Civilian space travelers

Generally, LBNP devices come in the form of a horizontal chamber. But a standard LBNP chamber is extremely heavy and bulky, excluded it from any in-flight missions to the International Space Station or beyond Earth orbit.

“Once space travel becomes commercialized, this device may ensure the health of future civilian space travelers. It is important to develop effective devices, like the mobile gravity suit, that simulate the very conditions our bodies on Earth depend on. This innovation may be pivotal for the journey to Mars,” the research team explains.

For commercial, high volume use, Ashari and Hargens note there would be five different sizes (XS, SM, M, L, and XL)!

To read the full research paper – “The Mobile Lower Body Negative Pressure Gravity Suit for Long-Duration Spaceflight” – go to:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2020.00977/full

One Response to “Going to Mars? You May Need Special Pants”

  • John Bensted says:

    There are some who believe we should have set course for Mars soon after the Apollo program, instead of taking the time to learn about the effects of microgravity on the human body. Our experience onboard the ISS has been an eye opener in this regard. Had we sent astronauts on a multi-year journey to Mars, ignorant of this deleterious effect on the human body, we would have welcomed home severely disabled heros … had they even survived.

    Spacecraft that rotate to mimic gravity will be more of an engineering problem than we wish, but not impossible. So, for the time being we are stuck with dealing directly with microgravity. I hope research continues into solutions such as this suit.

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