World Space Week: ESA Project Update
European Space Agency Project Update
Researchers at CAMERA, James Cowburn, Dr Dario Cazzola, and Dr Steffi Colyer have been assessing the movement forces on human lower limbs in low gravity settings using computer simulation and anti-gravity devices. The joint European Space Agency (ESA) – University of Bath project aims to inform ESA’s operational experts who develop and implement exercise countermeasures for astronauts. ESA has a long-term interest in human missions to the Moon, both to explore the surface itself and as an operational testbed for future planetary explorations to Mars and beyond. To date, however, very little is known about the physiological and biomechanical effects of life in low gravity and whether Lunar (0.16G) and Martian (0.38G) gravity is sufficient to maintain the long-term integrity of important physiological systems, such as muscles, bones, cardiovascular system.
To mark World Space Week, we spoke with Dr Dario Cazzola, who was able to share some exiting new video footage of their research, project update, and future plans for data collection on a partial gravity simulator.
“The last eight months have seen the project pick up pace as it builds towards the main data collection in the first quarter of 2020. The first steps were taken when we visited the University of Milan in February to pilot test a vertical body weight support system. This system was used to replicate four levels of reduced gravity, including Lunar and Martian gravity, whilst a participant performed a single-leg hopping task. Motion of the body, the forces being applied from the ground to the feet, and activity of the muscles were collected and used to investigate the influence of reduced gravity on the body. This pilot testing has since helped to strengthen the approach the project will take and led to a more comprehensive experimental protocol being developed. A wider range of reduced gravity magnitudes and repertoire of movements common in daily living (e.g. walking) and rehabilitation (e.g. vertical jumping) will be added so that a complete picture of how body weight support systems can be used to better inform rehabilitation. With the collections scheduled for early 2020, I secured funding from the University of Bath to support a two month visit to Milan where he will conduct the data collections. Further pilot tests in Milan are scheduled in the interim to ensure the equipment and the protocol work appropriately before main collections begin.
Over the summer, I have spent two months working with Dr Gil Serrancolí at the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunia (Barcelona) developing computer simulations capable of recreating human movement. This powerful tool works by driving the movement of a musculoskeletal model – an idealised mathematical representation of the human body – that allows for the exploration of scenarios that are otherwise infeasible. Specifically, it is possible to: 1) estimate stress placed on internal body structures, such as individual muscles and joints, that would otherwise require invasive equipment, and 2) replicate extra-terrestrial environments, such as Mars or the Moon, that are inaccessible. Working alongside the experts in Barcelona, I have successfully used the single-leg hopping pilot data from Milan to developed a simulation capable of tracking the body’s motion, which can be adapted to the other movements planned from the main collections. The remaining time in Barcelona will focus on developing a computer simulation framework that is capable of predicting “new” movement patterns that can be used to investigate different scenarios, including following long-term exposure to reduced gravity, associated with deterioration of bones and muscles, and how this influences stress placed on the body. Taken together with the data gathered in Milan, this will allow for tailored rehabilitation programs to be developed using body weight support systems based on the estimated load placed on the body.”
For more information about the European Space Agency funded project, please see the original article published on the CAMERA blog https://www.camera.ac.uk/take-off-for-european-space-agency-funded-project/