NASA / Getty ImagesNASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, STS-132 mission specialist, participates in the mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station.
It seems astronauts hovering in weightless environments and earthlings reclining in front of the TV share a surprising trait: both avoid the effects of gravity — and both age rapidly as a result.
Now a unique joint venture between Canada’s health-research and space agencies is investigating the parallels between space flight and terrestrial aging, hoping to find ways to prevent the ill effects of each.
Astronauts and inactive older people suffer similar bone loss, muscle atrophy, blood-vessel changes and even fainting spells, say scientists, and their respective conditions can provide lessons for both domains.
Space flight is the ultimate in sedentary lifestyle
“To me, there really are a lot of overlaps,” said Richard Hughson, a University of Waterloo expert on vascular aging and brain health. “Space flight is the ultimate in sedentary lifestyle. When you’re up in space, you’re floating around, when you want to move a heavy object, you just give it a little push and away it goes.”
Billed as the first formal collaboration of its kind in the world, the project of the Canadian Space Agency and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research hosted a workshop for domestics scientists, doctors and business people in Ottawa earlier this year, and plans a broader international conference in 2013.
Typically in top physical shape, astronauts would seem on the surface to have little in common with seniors, especially those with particularly inactive lifestyles. Yet development of human bodies depends greatly on mechanical forces at play when people walk, lift things and otherwise move the weight of their own bodies or other objects against the ubiquitous pull of gravity.