Weightless science

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01 April 2011

Thinking of becoming an astronaut later in life? Well, if you’re keen on science and would like to study how things work in the absence of gravity, a career as an astronaut may be right up your street. With the International Space Station almost completed, a new era of scientific research in orbit is just beginning.

“We have three special laboratory modules attached to the Station and doing research is a part of the daily routine up there,” said ESA astronaut and scientist, Christer Fuglesang. “Our European Columbus laboratory is fully used, but the door is always open for new research. The Station’s diary is already stuffed with science, done by the astronauts or conducted remotely. The astronauts also act as test subjects themselves.”

Gel injections on the scalp for Neurospat

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One of the most interesting problems being studied is how our bodies adapt to the weird world of weightlessness. Not only does this improve our understanding of human biology, but it is also the key to future exploration of the Moon or Mars.

Scientists want to know about every aspect of the crew’s condition. Their food intake is monitored and the effects of different diets are recorded. That means taking a lot of blood, urine and hair samples, storing them in a freezer and sending them back to Earth for analysis. Two special watches worn by the astronauts log every movement. Various body scans are also part of their daily timetable.

Such studies have direct benefits for people on Earth, as well as astronauts on long space missions. They bring hope to people who suffer from weakened bones, heart and lung diseases, and age-related problems.

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