Key to spaceflight health may be the spin cycle

Rask at UNDA compact centrifuge may help keep astronauts in form on long-duration spaceflights – and a Mars flyby would be an ideal place to test it out, according to NASA’s Jon Rask, who lectured at the Space Studies Colloquium on February 3.

A common problem for astronauts is orthostatic intolerance (OSI), a condition that can develop when the human body’s alters its fluid balance in microgravity.  Sudden acceleration or prolonged exertion or can cause the cardiovascular system to suddenly fail to keep up, causing the traditional symptoms of OSI: fainting or blackouts.

As a Life Scientist at the NASA Ames Research Centre in California, Rask studies the performance of human subjects that train on centrifuge test beds.  In a series of experiments with the Human Performance Centrifuge, he found that daily 90-minute sessions on a centrifuge improved test subjects’ performance in blackout-inducing conditions.

How effective such a centrifuge would be in actual spaceflight is an interesting, open question, as on Earth, researchers can only approximate certain parts of the spaceflight experience through controlled bedrest and dehydration.

Putting an HPC-like centrifuge on a Mars flyby mission would take up a fair chunk of space, but only about 230 kg, making it feasible to fly along with astronauts.  If there’s not enough room for a human centrifuge, at the very least, the Mars flyby could carry a contraption for mice.