Advances to Life in Space

NSBRI's primary objective is to ensure safe and productive human spaceflight. Our scientists and physicians are working to enhance medical care in space and find solutions to the health challenges of living and working in space for long periods of time.

Here are a few examples of how NSBRI science is improving life in space.

Noninvasive Sensor Measures Muscle Chemistry in Space
Trauma and acute medical problems, along with loss of muscle strength and endurance, are serious risks facing astronauts on long missions. A noninvasive sensor developed by Dr. Babs R. Soller is expected to reduce the crew's set-up time for scientific studies which now require complex equipment to assess astronaut fitness in orbit. The sensor will also provide real-time feedback to astronauts on the effectiveness of their exercise routines to maintain their aerobic performance while in space. Prototype sensors underwent ground testing involving stationary cycling and treadmill walking/running at NASA Johnson Space Center. In the future, the sensor could be worn by astronauts in their spacesuits to monitor oxygen consumption during extravehicular activities to assure they do not exhaust life support capability when they are away from the spacecraft or exploration outpost.

Although the device is planned for use during routine exercise, all crew members would also be trained to use it in response to a medical emergency. The sensor provides needle-free determination of muscle oxygen and pH. Measurements of muscle oxygen levels can be used to gain early indication of undetected internal bleeding, and muscle pH levels would provide feedback on adequacy of therapy to address poor oxygen delivery resulting from bleeding or sepsis. These measurements can be used to provide an early indication of shock, assess its severity and help guide patient treatment.

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NSBRI Investigator: Babs R. Soller, Ph.D., Reflectance Medical Inc. and University of Massachusetts Medical School

Expanding Medical Care in Space with Ultrasound
Ultrasound provides powerful diagnostic capabilities. In space, diagnosis and management of health problems can be difficult due to limited medical training and experience. Developed by Dr. Scott A. Dulchavsky in collaboration with NASA and Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering, an ultrasound training program gives non-physician astronauts the tools to assess health using real-time remote assistance from medical experts. The team developed rapid training methods and CD Rom refresher modules that allow non-physicians to perform diagnostic quality ultrasound exams on the International Space Station (ISS).

Ultrasound can be used to assess fractured bones, collapsed lungs, kidney stones, organ damage, and tendon injury. Dr. Dulchavsky's group is also developing an ultrasound imaging catalog system for medical diagnosis in space. The product includes predictive modeling capabilities. Dr. Dulchavsky has worked with flight surgeons and successive ISS crews to advance the project to a level for evaluation in spaceflight. Although the project is not yet completed, the results, compiled in collaboration with NASA and Wyle, have been embraced by NASA flight surgeons, who have adopted the technology for clinical, operational use.

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NSBRI Investigator: Scott A. Dulchavsky, M.D., Ph.D., Henry Ford Health System

PVT Self Test Advances to International Space Station (ISS)
Through his NSBRI grants, Dr. David F. Dinges used laboratory analog environments to gather data using a test that objectively measures processes involving attention, vigilance and reaction time. Participants completed a 3-minute Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT) Self Test. The test was developed through Dr. Dinges' work with NSBRI, NASA, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Homeland Security. PVT Self Test requires the user to watch for a visual signal and respond quickly and accurately when it appears. During four NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO 9, 12, 13 and 14) missions and at Devon Island, PVT Self Test was performed at least four times a day – on waking, before and after simulated lunar activities, and before bed.
Astronaut feedback was solicited during development of an interface component to the test that provides users with immediate feedback. PVT Self Test was renamed "Reaction Self Test" as it advanced to a flight experiment on the International Space Station in 2009. The study will provide a validated measurement of in-flight cognitive performance and will help NASA characterize and quantify the risk of performance errors due to sleep loss, sleep schedule disruption, fatigue and work overload. The PVT Self Test is also being implemented in the Russian Mars 520-Day Mission Simulation. The study, started June 3, 2010, simulates a mission to Mars with a six-man international crew living in a mock-spaceship, isolation chamber in Moscow.

Read News Release on PVT Self Test in 520-Day Mars Mission Simulation
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Read about Reaction Self Test on ISS
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NSBRI Investigator: David F. Dinges, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Lighting the International Space Station (ISS)
NSBRI lighting countermeasure expert Dr. George C. Brainard has provided extensive consultation to NASA in its decision to develop the first solid-state lighting module for the ISS. The existing fluorescent lighting modules on the ISS and shuttle have been aging and burning out at an unexpectedly rapid rate. The current plan is to replace the older lighting system with the solid-state modules equipped with banks of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). These new modules are intended to produce the same light levels for adequate vision but have the added benefit of weighing less, using less power and emitting less heat. These modules will also be better adapted for use in lighting countermeasures that might require use of light in the blue-green spectrum.

Current and previous Investigators on the NSBRI Human Factors and Performance Team worked with engineers, scientists and administrators at NASA Johnson Space Center and NASA Kennedy Space Center to create a consensus on the most desirable elements for the new ISS lighting system.

NSBRI Current/Previous Investigators:
George C. Brainard, Ph.D., and Alan Kubey, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University
Steven W. Lockley, Ph.D., Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., Elizabeth B. Klerman, M.D., Ph.D., and Laura Barger, Ph.D., Brigham and Women's Hospital – Harvard Medical School
Kenneth P. Wright Jr., Ph.D, University of Colorado at Boulder

Anesthesia Protocol
In 2005, an anesthesia protocol was designed by Dr. Harold K. Doerr and colleagues which outlined the procedures for administering anesthesia when needed to treat long-duration astronauts. This procedure took into account changes to the body due to long stays in microgravity. The protocol was instituted and placed into Department of Defense Manned Spaceflight Support Field Manuals. If needed, it will be used by the Department of Defense AirDoc flight surgeons in the event of a crew rescue due to medical emergency, contingency or abort on orbit.

NSBRI Investigator: Harold K. Doerr, M.D., Baylor College of Medicine