Space health to be explored during all-civilian Inspiration4 spaceflight

Less than one century ago, the concept of space travel seemed impossible. Now, 52 years after Neil Armstrong became the first person to land on the moon, the possibility of civilian space travel is becoming more probable.

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SpaceX’s Inspiration4 became the first all-civilian spaceflight to orbit the Earth after they launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 15. The four-person crew embarked on a three-day journey into space, and Baylor College of Medicine is playing a vital role. The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor is sponsoring research during the mission that will increase our collective understanding of how space impacts the human body.

“Getting to space is difficult, and the environment is hostile to both physical and mental health. As space travel becomes accessible and routine, more diverse space travelers will be making the journey,” said Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, chief medical officer of TRISH and assistant professor in the Center for Space Medicine. “The future of space travel includes all people, of all races, and with a range of medical conditions, and we will need medical solutions to protect all of them. Working closely with Inspiration4 gives TRISH the opportunity to prepare for the future by developing the health and performance protections we will need.”

Urquieta and his team at TRISH within the Center for Space Medicine will oversee various experiments that Inspiration4’s crew are performing before, during and after the flight, including:

  • Collecting data from crew members to demonstrate how the flight affects movement, sleep, heart rate and blood oxygen saturation.
  • Using a Vertical Flow Immunoassay (VFI) to collect drops of blood to test immune function and inflammation.
  • Using a cognition testing battery to measure changes in behavioral and cognitive performance.
  • Performing balance and perception tests to assess sensorimotor adaptation during gravity changes.

Also being tested by astronauts at the International Space Station, Inspiration4 will use the Butterfly IQ+ Ultrasound device to scan organ systems and provide a timeline of biological changes. 

“Protecting astronauts and keeping them healthy pushes us to invent new ways to detect and prevent medical conditions,” Urquieta said. “Technology advances we make for space will only propel how we monitor and treat humans on Earth.”

Using data and samples from this and future flights, TRISH is creating a state-of-the-art integrated medical and environmental research knowledge bank and repository for biological samples. This centralized and standardized research database and biobank will increase access to knowledge about human health for the global research community.

TRISH is also building research partnerships with other commercial space missions. After the Inspiration4 mission, TRISH will continue their research through EXPAND, a program that will continue to study human health and performance in passengers traveling to space, including early detection and treatment of medical conditions, protection from radiation effects, mental health, team dynamics and more.

“TRISH exists to find and deliver breakthrough research and technologies back to NASA, and this is exactly what we are doing through the EXPAND program by collaborating with commercial spaceflight providers,” Urquieta said. “TRISH is bringing together the public sector, private industry, and academia in a way that advances learning opportunities for all. Working with the SpaceX and the crew of Insipiration4 opens up new horizons for health research.”

-By Kaylee Dusang

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