Fundamental research, towards a better understanding of the human organism and its survival and wellbeing under the harsh conditions of space flight, contributes to the improvement of human health in space as well as on the ground. Fundamental research contributes also to the development of biomedical instrumentation and tools useful for the improvement of health both in extreme and normal conditions terrestrially.
Studying the adaptation of the human body to weightlessness provides a unique opportunity: being free from the gravity factor that is confounding and can mask discreet and/or too subtle effects: for example diffusion processes are of order of magnitudes smaller than convection effects; thus isolating diffusion from convection is always a challenging task on Earth while in microgravity convection no longer exist.
The resulting better understanding allows improving our knowledge of human physiology. Therefore, improved models of human physiology and innovative methods for diagnosis, preventive measures, and treatment are developed and can often be adapted for terrestrial application, which in the end leads to improved health care on Earth.
Many synergies are carried over by such research: tools required for the health monitoring in extreme terrestrial environments and accompanying living and working conditions in such environments presents similarities with the one required for space, but also ‘analogous’ conditions such as sedentary life or involuntary physical inactivity presents similarities with the consequences of spaceflight on human physiology.
Human exploration of space contributes to human physiology and psychology research as well towards the development of miniaturised and smart tools, sensors, and (remote) monitoring systems and protocols. R&D in biomedical instrumentation, therefore, also represents a key area of work in innovative and breakthrough technology.
A list of the research fields supported by ESA, whose projects are mainly related to health, is given below. Each of these addresses a question relevant to the consequences of a space mission (exposure to weightlessness, radiation, isolation,…) on the physiology of astronauts. The synergies and possible contributions to health on the ground are mentioned as well. Further details on these topics can be found hereafter.
Previous research studies:
More information on past research studies can be found in the Erasmus Experiment Archive database