New paper provides lessons learned for exploration to the Moon and beyond

HOUSTON, TX, February 01, 2019 /24-7PressRelease/ — Mountaineers know that a climb to the top of the world takes preparation. A team must plan ahead to overcome the extreme conditions of an Everest-class mountain: below-freezing temperatures, gale-force winds, and lack of oxygen. Guides who have pushed toward the peak offer “lessons learned” to those following in the footsteps of pioneers.

A new research paper offers lessons learned for yet another pioneering journey: exploration to the Moon and worlds beyond. In A Year on the International Space Station: Preparation for and Implementation of a Long-duration Biomedical Research Mission, scientists at NASA discuss programmatic results from the landmark Kelly-Kornienko One-Year Mission (1YM). The paper serves as a guide for future biomedical studies in space. It outlines processes that improved scientific collaboration for risk reduction research on the International Space Station, and examines implications for future interplanetary expeditions.

Prior to the one-year mission, NASA had limited opportunity and experience in observing the physiological and psychological effects of long-duration spaceflight as a typical space station mission lasts about six months. Scientists recognized the need to learn more about five hazards encountered on every expedition – space radiation, isolation, distance from Earth, altered gravity fields, and hostile/closed environments – and to what extent the risks of those hazards increase as more time is spent away from Earth. An estimated two to three years of travel would be required for any future Mars-class mission, so NASA determined it would be essential to gain a better understanding of extended exposure to spaceflight conditions.

John Charles, retired NASA Human Research Program (HRP) chief scientist, notes that as American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko prepared to embark on their one-year mission, researchers commenced “the most complex biomedical experiments ever conducted on the International Space Station—and arguably in human spaceflight.” During the year that ensued, the scientists and researchers tracking the changes to Kelly and Kornienko achieved an unprecedented level of collaboration within the global research community. The one-year mission demonstrated how integrated studies can shape future processes and procedures, as well as improve the efficiency of biomedical research conducted on the space station, while reducing cost.

In the research paper, Charles summarizes the 1YM investigations and the importance of standard measures for rigorous comparisons across disparate populations. Detailed reports of findings from the studies are expected to be published by individual investigators later this year.

To draw any conclusions about the cumulative effects of exposure to space, and to develop effective countermeasures, Charles points out that “NASA needs to observe more astronauts spending larger amounts of time in the space environment.” HRP has committed to ongoing research, involving integrated biomedical studies on different platforms over different time scales. The objective: to extrapolate to multi-year interplanetary missions.

Overcoming the extreme conditions of living and working in space will not be easy. Future missions to Mars would attest to the strength of human endurance and resolve. Just as today’s climbers have benefited from the experience of the explorers and guides who have gone before them, tomorrow’s astronauts will benefit from the Kelly-Kornienko one-year mission, and the scientists who have endeavored to make it safer for future generations to travel to worlds beyond.

NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) is dedicated to discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. HRP enables space exploration by reducing the risks to astronaut health and performance using ground research facilities, the International Space Station, and analog environments. This leads to the development and delivery of an exploration biomedical program focused on: informing human health, performance, and habitability standards; developing countermeasures and risk mitigation solutions; and advancing habitability and medical support technologies. HRP supports innovative, scientific human research by funding more than 300 research grants to respected universities, hospitals, and NASA centers to over 200 researchers in more than 30 states.

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