NASA, DLR Fund Long Duration Astronaut Health Research

Crew members for the current simulation missions stand in front of the NASA Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA). HERA 10 “launched” on May 2 for a 30-day mission to the near-Earth asteroid “Geographos.” The crew members are (left to right): Chris Matty of Houston, Texas; Oscar Mathews of Virginia Beach, Virginia; Ron Franco of Lockport, New York; and Casey Stedman of Olympia, Washington. (Credit: NASA) Subject: Crew photo for HERA 10 crew. Photographer: Bill Stafford
Crew members for the current simulation missions stand in front of the NASA Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA). HERA 10 “launched” on May 2 for a 30-day mission to the near-Earth asteroid “Geographos.” The crew members are (left to right): Chris Matty of Houston, Texas; Oscar Mathews of Virginia Beach, Virginia; Ron Franco of Lockport, New York; and Casey Stedman of Olympia, Washington. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR — NASA’s Human Research Program and the German Space Agency (DLR) will fund six proposals to investigate possible changes in the behavioral health and performance of astronauts on future deep space exploration missions. The selected proposals aim to address the impact of the spaceflight environment on various aspects of astronaut health, including cognition, sleep loss and team functioning. This work is helping NASA develop the knowledge and countermeasures necessary to ensure astronauts remain healthy as we venture beyond low-Earth orbit to visit an asteroid and eventually the journey to Mars.

All of the selected studies will take place the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. This unique modular three-story habitat provides a high-fidelity research venue for scientists to use in addressing risks and knowledge gaps associated with human health and performance during spaceflight. Several simulated space exploration missions will support the selected experiments and are planned for 2017 in HERA. Each mission will support four crew members during 45 days of confinement.

As a collaboration through the International Space Life Sciences Working Group, NASA and DLR released a joint research solicitation, and projects were selected from 13 proposals received in response to NASA Research Announcement entitled “International Life Sciences Research Announcement.” American and German science and technology experts from academia and government reviewed the proposals. The four selected U.S. proposals are from four institutions in three states and will receive a total of about $1.4 million over a two to three year period.

Among the selectees, Erin Flynn-Evans, Research Psychologist at NASA Ames Research Center, will investigate models to predict fatigue-related performance impairment arising from sleep loss, circadian misalignment and sleep inertia in crew members. Suzanne Bell, Associate Professor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology at DePaul University, will develop a model which details how team member attributes and interpersonal perceptions affect relationships in isolated and confined environments. Alexander Stahn, Head of the Exercise and Anthropometry Laboratory at the Charité University in Berlin, will study the effect of isolation and confinement on brain structure and function as well as cognitive performance relevant to astronauts engaged in long duration space exploration missions.

All of the selected projects will enter an analog-definition phase in which NASA and DLR will work with the investigators to enable the research to be conducted in HERA.

The complete list of the six selected American and German proposals, principal investigators and organizations that will utilize the HERA facility is below:

  • Suzanne Bell, DePaul University, “A US-Russian Collaborative Proposal for Data Collection in HERA: The Relationship between Composition, Interpersonal Relations, and Team Effectiveness in Space Crews”
  • Kevin Duda, The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, “Real-Time Estimation Of The Effects Of A Simulated Long-Duration Exploration Mission on Flight Performance, Workload, And Situation Awareness”
  • Erin Flynn-Evans,  NASA Ames Research Center, “Evaluation of the Validity, Acceptability and Usability of Bio-Mathematical Models to Predict Fatigue in an Operational Environment”
  • Uwe Hoffman, German Sport University, “Cardiorespiratory Kinetics during Exercise in Simulated Stressful Missions”
  • Alexander Stahn, Charité University Medicine, “Neuroplasticity in HERA – Structural and Functional Changes in Hippocampal Plasticity after Isolation and Its Behavioral Significance for Long Duration Space Exploration Missions”
  • Gary Strangman, Massachusetts General Hospital, “Quantifying and Predicting Operationally-Relevant Performance in a Long-Duration Spaceflight Analog”