MILWAUKEE, Aug. 18 (UPI) — Astronauts’ muscles waste away in the zero gravity of long space missions, U.S. researchers say, reducing their strength by up to 40 percent.
This is the equivalent of a 30- to 50-year-old crew member’s muscles weakening to those of an 80-year-old, an online article in the Journal of Physiology reports.
This would pose a pose a significant safety risk for future manned missions to Mars and elsewhere, a study says.
NASA estimates for a Mars mission it would take a crew 10 months to reach the planet, with a one-year stay, or a total mission time of about three years.
Researchers at Marquette University say astronauts on such a mission would find their ability to work declining, with the loss in the most affected muscles, such as the calves, approaching 50 percent.
The study — the first on the effects of long duration space flight on human muscle — took calf biopsies of nine astronauts and cosmonauts before and immediately following 180 days on the International Space Station.
The findings show substantial loss of fiber mass, force and power in this muscle group.
The results show the need for better exercise countermeasures on the ISS before embarking on distant space journeys, researchers say.
But scientists shouldn’t give up on extended space travel, the study’s lead author says.
“Manned missions to Mars represent the next frontier, as the Western Hemisphere of our planet was 800 years ago,” Robert Fitts, professor of biological sciences at Marquette, said. “Without exploration we will stagnate and fail to advance our understanding of the universe.”
Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.