With a maximum of 12.5 G’s for human experiments (and 20 G’s for those with bowels the size of soda straws), the 58-foot wide centrifuge, located at the Center for Gravitational Biology Research (CGBR) at Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, California), is being used to study how to minimize adverse effects of space travel on astronauts’ health. NASA reports that it has teamed up with University of Kentucky in Lexington and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to conduct the science:
The research is expected to help determine what combinations of exercise and exposure to increased gravity effectively counters the changes that occur during space travel.
“While in space, astronauts experience heart and blood vessel changes, decreased bone strength, loss of muscle mass, and shifts in fluids within their bodies,” said Ames’ exercise physiologist and study scientist Fritz Moore. “This does not immediately harm the astronauts, but it may complicate longer space travel and make the return to Earth difficult.”
Scientists will examine the effects of exercise on the test subjects while spinning on the centrifuge. Helping astronauts counter the changes to their bodies also may further the development of health benefits for the general public.
“The knowledge we gain here helps us understand everyday health issues such as high or low blood pressure.” Moore said. “The changes that astronauts experience are very similar to those seen in people who are less active or frequently confined to bed rest, such as individuals in our rapidly growing senior population. It is very likely that space medicine and geriatric medicine will interact and help us understand the best ways to arrive home from space, as well as the best ways to grow old.”
Additional research is needed to understand the health effects of transitioning between different gravitational environments. This type of research benefits current and future astronauts supporting the Vision for Space Exploration to return to the moon and continue on to Mars.