Health from Space: "The secrets of an astronaut's health and fitness"

Interview with Dr. Simone Evetts

He is kind of a "Bones" McCoy, since he keeps astronauts fit: Dr. Simon Evetts leads the Medical Projects and Technology team within the Medical Support Office of the European Astronauts Centre in Cologne, Germany.


Photo: Dr. Simone Evetts

Dr. Simone Evetts; ©private talked to him about sports in universe, space technology and the benefits for us earthlings. Dr. Evetts, for 15 years now you have been studying space health. What is the aim of your work?

Dr. Simon Evetts: Our research tries to find out how to stop health problems like muscle atrophy and losing bone mass which exist in space - and how we can use it on earth. Have you already been to space yourself?

Evetts: No, I have not been there. Our practices take place on earth. Don't you need weightlessness to study an astronaut's health?

Evetts: We have found a quite simple way to analyse the effects a stay in space has on the human body. Weightlessness has similar effects on astronaut's bodies as bedrest has on patients in the hospital. We use bedrest studies where the subjects lie in a so called "head-down tilt" position with their feets positioned higher than the head. When holding this position, blood moves from the lower limbs to the upper limbs - like in space.
Photo: Astronaut riding a statonary bicycle

Astronauts have to exercise in space to help prevent muscle breakdown by weightlessness. Since the space on board is small, devices are designed specifically for living on a space shuttle. This happened to a portable ultrasonic device; © / Sergey Drozdov Fitness is a main aspect of health prevention.

Evetts: Yes, it is. To prevent from negative effects, astronauts have to exercise regularly - about two hours a day, including disciplines like running, cycling or resistance exercises. We know how to exercise quite well on earth, which is very important for our astronauts in space. However, there are also differences. Which are ...?

Evetts: For example that in space there is no use for decentring movements of the astronauts muscles. The machine for resistance exercises thus has to stimulate these movements. Which results from space health technologies are useful for "earth" medicine?

Evetts: On space stations we need small and light equipment. MRI devices for example are too big and heavy to take them into space. So we had to find new ways to enable ultrasonic devices to take over more procedures. Like for example in matters of bone fractures, eye traumas, joint and abdominal injuries, which have not been examined by ultrasound in the past. By now, there are already hospitals which use the new ways of application. And the number is increasing. Our work in the field of space health is very important for everyday medicine.
Photo: Natascha Mörs; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Natascha Mörs.