It could sound like a protracted spa break however when 20 girls tuck themselves right into a waterbed in the south of France for 5 days this week, it will be beneath the guise of a scientific study into the impact of space flight on the female body.
The experiment, by the European Space Agency, will simulate the impact of microgravity on the musculoskeletal system, immune and cardiovascular well being and hormone ranges. With an growing quantity of female astronauts collaborating in long-duration missions the immersion study is aimed toward addressing a gender hole the place the overwhelming majority of space drugs analysis has been carried out on males.
“There is almost no knowledge about the physiological and psychological effects on women in this research area,” mentioned Angelique Van Ombergen, the Esa scientist main the experiment at the Medes space clinic in Toulouse. “We really hope that this study could help address some of the knowledge gaps of how people react to this extreme environment.”
The weightlessness skilled by astronauts can have hanging results on the body in a brief space of time. Without gravity to load the backbone, water and different molecules are capable of transfer into the discs between vertebrae, that means that astronauts are likely to grow to be taller in space – but additionally weaker as supporting muscle groups and ligaments are doing much less work.
The absence of gravity additionally results in fluids shifting in direction of the head, which has been linked to listening to and imaginative and prescient issues. Previous research have discovered the immune system can “go quiet” in the sterile setting of a spaceship, which may result in a reactivation of outdated viruses. Many of these results are prone to differ considerably between women and men.
“Women seem less susceptible to vision impairment than men, related to headward fluid shifts, but women are more susceptible to fainting when they come back to Earth,” mentioned Prof Alan Hargens, who researches the impact of microgravity on the human body at Surgery University of California San Diego.
Until now, although, there was a dearth of knowledge making it tough to tailor train programmes throughout missions and rehabilitation on return to Earth for female astronauts.
In the newest study, the volunteers will first be swathed in a cotton sheet after which a water-resistant tarp, earlier than being suspended in an immersion tank with solely their arms and head left outdoors. The volunteers will stay of their tank for 5 days in a “monotonous environment”, solely popping out for transient “hygiene breaks” to bathe and go to the rest room, whereas remaining in a horizontal place to minimise fluid shifts in the body. The scientists will acquire blood and urine samples, whereas making steady measurements to see how the body is adapting.
Based on earlier dry immersion experiments – a Russian cohort spent 21 days in an analogous setup – Van Ombergen mentioned the expertise was prone to be fairly difficult for the volunteers, reasonably than stress-free. “It requires dedication from the volunteers to stick to it,” she mentioned.
The proportion of female astronauts has slowly elevated over the previous decade, with the first all-female spacewalk in 2019, Nasa having introduced its aim to place the first lady on the moon and China anticipated to incorporate a female astronaut on subsequent month’s mission to its new Tiangong space station.