ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori will oversee four European experiments during his eight- day stint on the International Space Station.
Astronauts rely mainly on their arms to assist them in moving around in microgravity. Understanding the forces and pressures involved will extend our knowledge of how prolonged exposure to weightlessness can affect the human body.
Measuring the grip exerted by hands and fingers when grasping objects in microgravity is the subject of the CHIRO (Crew Health Investigation on Reduced Operability) experiment. Astronauts will use two dynamometers to measure the force exerted by both hand and fingers, and the muscle fatigue resulting from sustained and prolonged effort.
The way in which astronauts use their upper limbs while living and working in microgravity is similar to that observed in people who suffer from pathological or traumatic phenomena that affect their central nervous system. The results of this experiment will therefore be compared with clinical records from laboratories on Earth to highlight the differences between the two environments, providing doctors with useful information when planning for long-term human space missions and producing records that can be used on the ground to help returning astronauts readjust to normal gravity.
Prolonged missions on the International Space Station will expose astronauts to cosmic particles and so scientists are keen to understand if this has any effect on general living conditions in space and the way the human brain functions.
To study flows of cosmic particles within the Space Station and carry out a preliminary investigation of their effects on astronauts, an experiment called ALTEINO will be conducted during the Marco Polo mission. .
ALTEINO will combine an active silicon particle detector with a system for taking electro-physiological brain measurements that will provide doctors with data on the way the human nervous system adapts to the conditions of microgravity.
The experiment is the precursor to ALTEA (Anomalous Long Term Effects on Astronauts) that will follow on future missions and is designed to identify risks to the functioning of the nervous system associated with prolonged missions in space and exposure to cosmic particles.
ALTEINO is the product of international, interdisciplinary cooperation, overseen by Italian research teams (University of Rome-Tor Vergata, University of Genoa, and the National Nuclear Physics Institute, INFN) in cooperation with Russian institutions (the Moscow Institute for Biomedical Problems and the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute).
Space Station crews need specially designed clothing that allows them to work, rest and exercise with maximum comfort and efficiency. Variations in ambient temperature, biological and postural changes, and many hours of physical exercise each day are typical of the conditions to which clothing is subjected.
An important consideration is to reduce the burden of the weight and volume required for astronauts’ clothing as well as improving general comfort during activities on board the Space Station – design and fabrics are therefore key factors.
The appropriately named VEST experiment provides astronauts with samples of clothing to wear and evaluate, providing information that will assist specialist manufacturers when introducing new fabrics and clothing designs that are suited to the demands of living and working in a microgravity environment.
Particular considerations behind the development of new garments is that they should be comfortable, provide for bodily hygiene and thermal stability, and be aesthetically pleasing to improve the crews’ psychological and physiological state.
The advantages of such clothing ranges are not confined to orbit. Terrestrial activities, such as sports and outdoor pursuits, can all benefit from enhancements to the antibacterial and thermo-regulatory treatment of the fabrics.
The Blood pressure Measurement Instrument (BMI) is a German-developed commercial device dedicated to round-the clock monitoring of both blood pressure and heart rate. Although widely used by doctors on Earth it is the first time the device – which is equivalent to a portable CD player in size – has been flown in space.
At pre-determined times, a cuff around the astronaut’s upper arm inflates, takes a measurement and then deflates, accurately recording the data inside the unit, which can be sent to scientists on Earth via a PC or laptop.
BMI will provide vital information on the impact the space environment has on the human body. It can take a measurement in any condition and is unobtrusive, allowing the astronaut to continue with daily activities onboard the Space Station.