The Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen is part of an interstellar research project that is literally out of this world.
Throughout several years of development, the Department has helped the Danish company Ohmatex validate a pair of intelligent exercise tights, which will soon be tested by astronauts at the International Space Station, ISS.
Besides the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus-based Ohmatex, Danish Aerospace Company from Odense is also a partner in the project and will be responsible for the safety and qualification of the electronics that will be used in space.
Together with ESA, all parties have just signed a contract for DKK 7.75 million, which over the course of three years will ensure the launch, data collection and further development of the Danish-made space equipment. This activity is carried out under the General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) of and funded by the European Space Agency.
Healthy Return Trip
The exercise suits from Ohmatex are equipped with six sensors that during physical exercise will collect data on the electrical activity of muscles, the oxygen turnover and the blood flow. This is done without any loose wires and cables, which often pose a problem under weightless conditions and on Earth.
By using the intelligent tights, the hope is to set up training programmes for space missions more efficiently and to monitor astronauts' health while in space, explains Dr Lonnie Grove Petersen from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and the University of California, San Diego.
’Overall, this tool should find direct applications for astronauts during space missions. With better equipment, we can better monitor the health of astronauts and optimize training, for example during Moon and Mars missions, and ensure that astronauts remain fit and healthy all the way up there and all the way back again’ says Lonnie Grove Petersen.
She adds that by using data from the exercise suits, researchers should simultaneously be better able to investigate how gravity – or lack of it – affects the physiology of the body.
’By seeing what happens to the body during weightlessness, we learn a great deal. Not only about space missions but also about how gravity here on Earth affects us. Many of the changes we see in space are similar to an accelerated ageing process and there are many parallels to specific diseases on Earth: Muscles atrophy, bones decalcify, and we see major effects on the cardiovascular system and the brain. Moreover, when the astronauts return, the opposite happens: A kind of regeneration process. In this way, physiology in space can teach us a lot about the development of diseases’, says Lonnie Grove Petersen.
Two Hours of Training Every Day
At present, astronauts in space spend an average of two hours each day doing exercises in order to maintain muscle strength and prevent discomfort caused by weightlessness.
However, by gaining deeper insight into the efficiency of exercising, the European Space Agency aims to pinpoint the specific needs for exercising and to optimise the training schedules of individual astronauts. That is why automated, mobile measurement methods are needed, such as in the intelligent tights from Ohmatex.
Initially, the equipment will be tested on a single crew of astronauts at the International Space Station, while control tests on Earth – led by the University of Copenhagen – will support the data sent from space.
The University of Copenhagen has previously played a prominent role in the development of other types of space equipment, for instance in the manufacture of magnets, cameras and sensors for vehicles on Mars.
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