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Medicine Space Science

Skin-Tight Bodysuits Could Protect Astronauts From Bone Loss 158

jamie passes along a report about research from MIT's Man-Vehicle Laboratory into using "superhero-style" skinsuits to combat the effects of extended stays in microgravity on bone density in astronauts. (Abstract.) Quoting: "Astronauts lose 1 to 2 percent of their bone mass for each month they spend in space. As far back as the Gemini missions, conditioning exercise regimes have been used to slow the rate of bone loss, but a 2001-2004 NASA-sponsored study showed that crew members aboard the International Space Station were still losing up to 2.7 percent of their interior bone material and 1.7 percent of outer hipbone material for each month they spent in space. ... With stirrups that loop around the feet, the elastic gravity skinsuit is purposely cut too short for the astronaut so that it stretches when put on — pulling the wearer's shoulders towards the feet. In normal gravity conditions on Earth, a human's legs bear more weight than the torso. Because the suit's legs stretch more than the torso section, the wearer's legs are subjected to a greater force — replicating gravity effects on Earth." See? Seven of Nine's outfit was inspired by science after all.
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Skin-Tight Bodysuits Could Protect Astronauts From Bone Loss

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  • by Saishuuheiki ( 1657565 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:44PM (#34139866)

    If that's the reason it brings up other concerns. In particular the 'taller in the morning that at night syndrome'.

    Eg, it's natural for the human body to contract during the day and expand at night. Who knows what the long term effects of not doing this for an extended period of time are. I could see this as being either good or bad

  • Multi-prong approach (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @03:02PM (#34140130)

    Suits + exercise should both be used. But if you look at the physiology of bone, it's easy to see why both won't be enough. Bone is continually being destroyed and rebuilt by your body. The proportion of destruction to construction is controlled by stress (ignoring hormones and blood chemistry for the moment).

    Gravity puts stress on your bones even when you lay down. Even in water. Any bit of movement magnifies it. Exercise in space is meant to substitute for this continual stress, but can't provide for continual, low level stress. These suits provide continual, low level stress to the skeleton. But it's still not the same.

    Low level plus high level stress work great together. This is why some schools encourage kids to jump up and down, hard, to strengthen bones by including some high stress each day. But exercise and suits in space won't provide the same level to the entire skeleton that even a few hops on Earth plus a day of video games will.

    There is one more technology used on Earth to selectively strengthen bones. Maybe it can provide the final missing stress. It turns out sound waves stress bone too. Audible sound would be too loud. But ultrasound is commonly used to accelerate bone healing and strengthening. It's not inconceivable that the skin tight suit could incorporate PVDF sheets that could transmit ultrasound into an astronaut's bones, applying it to understressed areas. It could even work as a cap to reduce bone loss in the skull.

    Or just build a big 'ol hamster wheel.

  • by markdj ( 691222 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @04:16PM (#34141218)
    So many science fiction stories have shown that one can simulate gravity with centrifugal force by rotating a craft/station. Why don't we do this with the international space station?
  • by tqk ( 413719 ) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Friday November 05, 2010 @06:45PM (#34142806)

    I find it funny that every Tom, Dick, and Harry without a high school education thinks that they're a brilliant engineer whenever they read about some problem that hundreds of experienced engineers couldn't solve. Seriously, take ten seconds and go google your idea BEFORE touting it as the magical solution that all of these foolish NASA engineers didn't think of.

    You've no understanding of history. Wizards come from out of the shadows all the time. You don't NEED a PHd to create magic. It just makes you look more publishable when you do have one.

If you suspect a man, don't employ him.