Without effective countermeasures, the musculoskeletal system is altered by the microgravity environment of long-duration spaceflight, resulting in atrophy of bone and muscle tissue, as well as in deficits in the function of cartilage, tendons, and vertebral disks. While inflight countermeasures implemented on the International Space Station have evidenced reduction of bone and muscle loss on low-Earth orbit missions of several months in length, important knowledge gaps must be addressed in order to develop effective strategies for managing human musculoskeletal health on exploration class missions well beyond Earth orbit. Analog environments, such as bed rest and/or isolation environments, may be employed in conjunction with large sample sizes to understand sex differences in countermeasure effectiveness, as well as interaction of exercise with pharmacologic, nutritional, immune system, sleep and psychological countermeasures. Studies of musculoskeletal biomechanics, involving both human subject and computer simulation studies, are essential to developing strategies to avoid bone fractures or other injuries to connective tissue during exercise and extravehicular activities. Animal models may be employed to understand effects of the space environment that cannot be modeled using human analog studies. These include studies of radiation effects on bone and muscle, unraveling the effects of genetics on bone and muscle loss, and characterizing the process of fracture healing in the mechanically unloaded and immuno-compromised spaceflight environment. In addition to setting the stage for evidence-based management of musculoskeletal health in long-duration space missions, the body of knowledge acquired in the process of addressing this array of scientific problems will lend insight into the understanding of terrestrial health conditions such as age-related osteoporosis and sarcopenia.
- Journal Article