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In Space No One Can Hear You Sneeze

Image of astronaut

Space is a harsh environment that presents several serious health risks to astronauts

By Elizabeth Blaber, Helder Marcal, John Foster & Brendan Burns

The altered gravity conditions of space can have serious detrimental effects on the health of astronauts. Understanding the cellular basis of this phenomenon could lead to better medical treatments on Earth.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Humans have gazed into the night sky for thousands of years and wondered what the billions of twinkling spots were that they could see. Different cultures have assigned their own meaning to the universe throughout the millennia, but rapid advances in research and technology are only just beginning to further our understanding of the nature and mysteries of the cosmos.

We recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of our first steps on the Moon, and within two decades it is hoped that humankind will have both the financial and technological means to establish a settlement on Mars. However, space is a harsh environment that presents several serious health risks to astronauts. Therefore, before space exploration can be pursued these health risks need to be identified and suitable countermeasures or preventative steps need to be taken to ensure the health and safety of our astronauts. The field of bioastronautics attempts to address these issues.

Our focus is to examine the way that microgravity influences cellular function. Microgravity in space is 1000 times less strong as the gravity we find here on Earth. It poses a serious health threat to astronauts, including loss of bone mass, skeletal and cardiac muscle wasting and muscular fatigue, decreased capacity of the immune system to fight infections, and a decreased ability of the body to repair itself.

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Elizabeth Blaber is a PhD student in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences and the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at the University of NSW. As the recent winner of the NASA Australia Space Prize she will attend one of NASA’s academies. The research described here is led by Brendan Burns, Helder Marcal and John Foster.