Gerst is one of several astronauts, who participate as subjects in a DSHS study on cartilage degradation in space. The study that Dr. Liphardt is conducting in collaboration with Professor Gert-Peter Brüggemann (Director of the Institute) and PD Dr. Anja Niehoff, is among other things expected to deliver insights as to how quickly cartilage is depleted due to immobilization. Later on, arthritis and osteoporosis patients are meant to benefit from these experiments.
How is this project set up, what steps are meant to lead to a successful result and at which point are you now?
Anna-Maria Liphardt: Space projects are designed for a longer period of time. For one, the international call for bids (International Research Announcement for Research in Space Life Sciences at the International Space Station - ILSRA) of the International Space Life Sciences Working Group (ISLSWG), where scientists can apply for life science experiments with active astronauts only takes place every four to five years. If you are accepted, in Germany you need to apply for support from the national space agency with the German Aerospace Center (German: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR e.V.). Generally, you subsequently receive funds to conduct the experiment with approximately five to ten astronauts. The exact number also depends on the type of experiment of course. This application process takes several years. Added to this is the fact that only a limited number of astronauts actually fly to the space station each year. At the moment, six astronauts fly into outer space every six months. Every six months, our experiment is being introduced to three astronauts, but it never happens that all of them are going to participate. For our research on articular cartilage, we would like to study between eight and ten astronauts; so far, we were able to examine four astronauts.