INTRODUCTION: Astronauts exhibit sensorimotor changes upon return from long-duration spaceflight that can result in altered gait kinematics and possibly an increased risk of tripping. Toe trajectory during locomotion is a precise motor control task involving both legs, thus providing a composite metric of locomotor control. The purpose of this study was to determine whether astronauts are at an increased risk of tripping after their return from long-duration spaceflight. This was accomplished by assessing the pre- to postflight changes in toe clearance during treadmill walking. METHODS: Ten crewmembers walked on a treadmill while performing a visual-acuity task pre- and postflight. RESULTS: In the three subjects on whom landing day data were available, each exhibited a characteristic of increased tripping risk on landing day: either a decreased median toe clearance or an increased interquartile range (a measure of variance). For all crewmembers, toe clearance median and interquartile range were not significantly different from preflight for the other postflight sessions (the earliest being 1 d after landing). A follow-up analysis showed that changes in foot pitch, ankle dorsiflexion, and pelvis roll angles were significant predictors of changes in toe clearance. DISCUSSION: The landing-day observations indicated an increased risk of tripping, which may pose a hazard during locomotion immediately upon return to Earth, especially in an emergency scenario. However, tripping risk on subsequent days was not different than preflight. The joint angle analysis suggested that the crewmembers tried to reestablish their normal walking pattern postflight, instead of developing a new motor control strategy.
Research Containing: Human Research
This investigation was designed to measure aerobic capacity (Vo2peak) during and after long-duration International Space Station (ISS) missions. Astronauts (9 males, 5 females: 49 +/- 5 yr, 77.2 +/- 15.1 kg, 40.6 +/- 6.4 ml.kg(-1).min(-1) [mean +/- SD]) performed peak cycle tests approximately 90 days before flight, 15 days after launch, every approximately 30 days in-flight, and on recovery days 1 (R + 1), R + 10, and R + 30. Expired metabolic gas fractions, ventilation, and heart rate (HR) were measured. Data were analyzed using mixed-model linear regression. The main findings of this study were that Vo2peak decreased early in-flight ( approximately 17%) then gradually increased during flight but never returned to preflight levels. Vo2peak was lower on R + 1 and R + 10 than preflight but recovered by R + 30. Peak HR was not different from preflight at any time during or following flight. A sustained decrease in Vo2peak during and/or early postflight was not a universal finding in this study, since seven astronauts were able to attain their preflight Vo2peak levels either at some time during flight or on R + 1. Four of these astronauts performed in-flight exercise at higher intensities compared with those who experienced a decline in Vo2peak, and three had low aerobic capacities before flight. These data indicate that, while Vo2peak may be difficult to maintain during long-duration ISS missions, aerobic deconditioning is not an inevitable consequence of long-duration spaceflight.
Astronauts experience a microgravity environment during spaceflight, which results in a central reinterpretation of both vestibular and body axial-loading information by the sensorimotor system. Subjects in bed rest studies lie at 6deg head-down in strict bed rest to simulate the fluid shift and gravity-unloading of the microgravity environment. However, bed rest subjects still sense gravity in the vestibular organs. Therefore, bed rest isolates the axial-unloading component, thus allowing for the direct study of its effects. The Tandem Walk is a standard sensorimotor test of dynamic postural stability. In a previous abstract, we compared performance on a Tandem Walk test between bed rest control subjects, and short- and long-duration astronauts both before and after flight/bed rest using a composite index of performance, called the Tandem Walk Parameter (TWP), that takes into account speed, accuracy, and balance control. This new study extends the previous data set to include bed rest subjects who performed exercise countermeasures. The purpose of this study was to compare performance during the Tandem Walk test between bed rest subjects (with and without exercise), short-duration (Space Shuttle) crewmembers, and long-duration International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers at various time points during their recovery from bed rest or spaceflight.
BACKGROUND: Changes in the lumbar and sacral spine occur with exposure to microgravity in astronauts; monitoring these alterations without radiographic capabilities on the International Space Station (ISS) requires novel diagnostic solutions to be developed. STUDY OBJECTIVES: We evaluated the ability of point-of-care ultrasound, performed by nonexpert-operator astronauts, to provide accurate anatomic information about the spine in long-duration crewmembers in space. METHODS: Astronauts received brief ultrasound instruction on the ground and performed in-flight cervical and lumbosacral ultrasound examinations using just-in-time training and remote expert tele-ultrasound guidance. Ultrasound examinations on the ISS used a portable ultrasound device with real-time communication/guidance with ground experts in Mission Control. RESULTS: The crewmembers were able to obtain diagnostic-quality examinations of the cervical and lumbar spine that would provide essential information about acute or chronic changes to the spine. CONCLUSIONS: Spinal ultrasound provides essential anatomic information in the cervical and lumbosacral spine; this technique may be extensible to point-of-care situations in emergency departments or resource-challenged areas without direct access to additional radiologic capabilities.
INTRODUCTION: Bodyweight loss during spaceflight has been observed among astronauts since the early space missions. Considerable mission data has been accumulated, including data from female astronauts, on the many Shuttle and International Space Station missions. The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between observed weight loss during spaceflight and potential covariate factors. METHODS: We performed a statistical analysis of the association between bodyweight change and plausible clinical and mission covariates, using data obtained from the NASA Longitudinal Study of Astronaut Health (LSAH). RESULTS: We confirmed that spaceflight is associated with weight change (-2.1 +/- 0.1%, N = 514). Prospective predictors of weight loss included: being a first-time astronaut, preflight bodyweight and BMI, routinely performing preflight exercise sessions lasting greater than 1 h, and baseline levels of cholesterol, potassium, and chloride. Severe space motion sickness was significantly associated with greater weight loss. Unexpectedly, a higher number of extravehicular activities per mission protected against weight loss. Mission duration had the strongest association with bodyweight change (-2.4 +/- 0.4% per 100 d in space). DISCUSSION: On average, space missions are associated with cumulative loss of bodyweight over time. Unless effective countermeasures are implemented, significant weight loss will be a likely outcome in a subset of astronauts as mission durations increase. New predictors of intra-mission bodyweight changes and other associated factors are identified.
Varicella zoster virus (VZV) becomes latent in human ganglia after primary infection. VZV reactivation occurs primarily in elderly individuals, organ transplant recipients, and patients with cancer and AIDS, correlating with a specific decline in cell-mediated immunity to the virus. VZV can also reactivate after surgical stress. The unexpected occurrence of thoracic zoster 2 days before space flight in a 47-year-old healthy astronaut from a pool of 81 physically fit astronauts prompted our search for VZV reactivation during times of stress to determine whether VZV can also reactivate after non-surgical stress. We examined total DNA extracted from 312 saliva samples of eight astronauts before, during, and after space flight for VZV DNA by polymerase chain reaction: 112 samples were obtained 234-265 days before flight, 84 samples on days 2 through 13 of space flight, and 116 samples on days 1 through 15 after flight. Before space flight, only one of the 112 saliva samples from a single astronaut was positive for VZV DNA. In contrast, during and after space flight, 61 of 200 (30%) saliva samples were positive in all eight astronauts. No VZV DNA was detected in any of 88 saliva samples from 10 healthy control subjects. These results indicate that VZV can reactivate subclinically in healthy individuals after non-surgical stress.
Success of long duration space missions will depend upon robust immunity. Decreased immunity has been observed in astronauts during short duration missions, as evident by the reactivation of latent herpes viruses. Seventeen astronauts were studied for reactivation and shedding of latent herpes viruses before, during, and after 9-14 days of 8 spaceflights. Blood, urine, and saliva samples were collected 10 days before the flight (L-10), during the flight (saliva only), 2-3h after landing (R+0), 3 days after landing (R+3), and 120 days after landing (R+120). Values at R+120 were used as baseline levels. No shedding of viruses occurred before flight, but 9 of the 17 (designated "virus shedders") shed at least one or more viruses during and after flight. The remaining 8 astronauts did not shed any of the 3 target viruses (non-virus shedders). Virus-shedders showed elevations in 10 plasma cytokines (IL-1alpha, IL-6, IL-8, IFNgamma, IL-4, IL-10, IL-12, IL-13, eotaxin, and IP-10) at R+0 over baseline values. Only IL-4 and IP-10 were elevated in plasma of non-virus shedders. In virus shedders, plasma IL-4 (a Th2 cytokine) was elevated 21-fold at R+0, whereas IFNgamma (a Th1 cytokine) was elevated only 2-fold indicating a Th2 shift. The inflammatory cytokine IL-6 was elevated 33-fold at R+0. In non-shedding astronauts at R+0, only IL-4 and IP-10 levels were elevated over baseline values. Elevated cytokines began returning to normal by R+3, and by R+120 all except IL-4 had returned to baseline values. These data show an association between elevated plasma cytokines and increased viral reactivation in astronauts.
Latent virus reactivation and diurnal salivary cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone were measured prospectively in 17 astronauts (16 male and 1 female) before, during, and after short-duration (12-16 days) Space Shuttle missions. Blood, urine, and saliva samples were collected during each of these phases. Antiviral antibodies and viral load (DNA) were measured for Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), and cytomegalovirus (CMV). Three astronauts did not shed any virus in any of their samples collected before, during, or after flight. EBV was shed in the saliva in all of the remaining 14 astronauts during all 3 phases of flight. Seven of the 14 EBV-shedding subjects also shed VZV during and after the flight in their saliva samples, and 8 of 14 EBV-shedders also shed CMV in their urine samples before, during, and after flight. In 6 of 14 crewmembers, all 3 target viruses were shed during one or more flight phases. Both EBV and VZV DNA copies were elevated during the flight phase relative to preflight or post-flight levels. EBV DNA in peripheral blood was increased preflight relative to post-flight. Eighteen healthy controls were also included in the study. Approximately 2-5% of controls shed EBV while none shed VZV or CMV. Salivary cortisol measured preflight and during flight were elevated relative to post-flight. In contrast DHEA decreased during the flight phase relative to both preflight and post-flight. As a consequence, the molar ratio of the area under the diurnal curve of cortisol to DHEA with respect to ground (AUCg) increased significantly during flight. This ratio was unrelated to viral shedding. In summary, three herpes viruses can reactivate individually or in combination during spaceflight.
Skin sensory input from the foot soles is coupled with vestibular input to facilitate body orientation in a gravitational environment. Anecdotal observations suggest that foot sole skin becomes hypersensitive following space flight. The veritable level of skin sensitivity and its impact on postural disequilibrium observed post space flight have not been documented. Skin sensitivity of astronauts (n = 11) was measured as vibration perception at the great toe, fifth metatarsal and heel. Frequencies targeted four classes of receptors: 3 and 25 Hz for slow-adapting (SA) receptors and 60 and 250 Hz for fast-adapting (FA) receptors. Data were collected pre– and post–space flight. We hypothesized that skin sensitivity would increase post–space flight and correlate to balance measures. Decreased skin sensitivity was found on landing day at 3 and 25 Hz on the great toe. Hypersensitivity was found for a subset of astronauts (n = 6) with significantly increased sensitivity to 250 Hz at the heel. This subset displayed a greater reduction in computerized dynamic posturography (CDP) equilibrium (EQ) scores (−54%) on landing vs. non-hypersensitive participants (−11%). Observed hyposensitivity of SA (pressure) receptors may indicate a strategy to reduce pressure input during periods of unloading. Hypersensitivity of FAs coupled with reduced EQ scores may reflect targeted sensory reweighting. Altered gravito-inertial environments reduce vestibular function in balance control which may trigger increased weighting of FAs (that signal foot contact, slips). Understanding modulations to skin sensitivity has translational implications for mitigating postural disequilibrium following space flight and for on-Earth preventative strategies for imbalance in older adults.
We measured cortical and trabecular bone loss using QCT of the spine and hip in 14 crewmembers making 4- to 6-month flights on the International Space Station. There was no compartment-specific loss of bone in the spine. Cortical bone mineral loss in the hip occurred primarily by endocortical thinning. Introduction: In an earlier study, areal BMD (aBMD) measurements by DXA showed that cosmonauts making flights of 4- to 12-month duration on the Soviet/Russian MIR spacecraft lost bone at an average rate of 1%/month from the spine and 1.5%/month from the hip. However, because DXA measurements represent the sum of the cortical and trabecular compartments, there is no direct information on how these bone envelopes are affected by spaceflight. Materials and Methods: To address this, we performed a study of crewmembers (13 males and 1 female; age range, 40-55 years) on long-duration missions (4-6 months) on the International Space Station (ISS). We used DXA to obtain aBMD of the hip and spine and volumetric QCT (vQCT) to assess integral, cortical, and trabecular volumetric BMD (vBMD) in the hip and spine. In the heel, DXA was used to measure aBMD, and quantitative ultrasound (QUS) was used to measure speed of sound (SOS) and broadband ultrasound attenuation (BUA). Results and Conclusions: aBMD was lost at rates of 0.9%/month at the spine (p < 0.001) and 1.4-1.5%/month at the hip (p < 0.001). Spinal integral vBMD was lost at a rate of 0.9%/month (p < 0.001), and trabecular vBMD was lost at 0.7%/month (p < 0.05). In contrast to earlier reports, these changes were generalized across the vertebrae and not focused in the posterior elements. In the hip, integral, cortical, and trabecular vBMD was lost at rates of 1.2-1.5%/month (p < 0.0001), 0.4-0.5%/month (p < 0.01), and 2.2-2.7%/month (p < 0.001), respectively. The cortical bone loss in the hip occurred primarily by cortical thinning. Calcaneal aBMD measurements by DXA showed smaller mean losses (0.4%/month) than hip or spine measurements, with SOS and BUA showing no change. In summary, our results show that ISS crewmembers, on average, experience substantial loss of both trabecular and cortical bone in the hip and somewhat smaller losses in the spine. These results do not support the use of calcaneal aBMD or QUS measurements as surrogate measures to estimate changes in the central skeleton.