When working in space, astronauts lose bone and muscle from their legs, hips and lower backs due to reduced load-bearing. To put the bone loss in perspective, postmenopausal women who are untreated for bone loss can lose 1-1.5 percent of bone mass in the hip in one year while an astronaut can lose the same amount of hip bone mass in a single month. Loss of musculoskeletal tissue mass and function can cause multiple problems for the crew of long-duration space missions, including reduction in physical performance, increased risk of fall-related injuries and accidents, and potentially, bone fractures.
The Musculoskeletal Alterations Team is studying the mechanisms involved in bone and muscle loss and whether reduced gravity increases risk of bone breaks and impairs fracture healing. The Team is also researching radiation-induced bone loss. In addition to identifying ways to enhance the benefits of exercise during spaceflight for maintaining muscle and bone function, the Team also is investigating methods to prevent or reduce the loss through nutritional and pharmaceutical interventions to complement exercise.
The Team's efforts will also have benefits on Earth for people with bone disorders, cancer patients and people who are immobilized due to injury or surgery.
Lori Ploutz-Snyder, Ph.D.
Universities Space Research Association
Associate Team Leader:
Henry J. Donahue, Ph.D.
Pennsylvania State University