From 'water bears' to orbital workouts. Here's how NASA is preparing humans for long-duration missions
Animals in space
There have been quite a few animals that have been to space over the past decades.
Sharmila Bhattacharya is a Program Scientist for the Biological and Physical Sciences Division at NASA, and she is working with these animals to see how organisms react to micro-gravity environments and what they might teach us about long-duration spaceflight.
From fruit flies to water bears, scientists have learned a lot about how biological processes react to microgravity and how that might apply to humans.
"The tardigrades — called water bears — they're these tiny, almost microscopic creatures, and when you see pictures of them, they really look like bears, and they are very robust," Bhattacharya said. "They can withstand high radiation environments, they can withstand a lot of droughts, very dehydrated conditions, extremes in temperature."
Preparing humans for spaceflight
Before takeoff, astronauts must be in great shape to withstand both the rigors of a space launch and life in micro gravity.
The NASA Astronaut Strength, Conditioning and Rehabilitation, or ASCR group, is a group of physical therapists, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning professionals. This group keeps the astronauts healthy before they leave the planet, during their time in space, and once they touch down back on Earth.
Christi Keeler, a member of the ASCR group, said that training and rehabilitation is different for each astronaut she works with.
“Everybody looks different going up and coming down, they might all work really hard, giving it their best effort, but for whatever reason, some people come down a little stronger than others," Keeler said. "Some people have more issues and others. There's not like one factor that's going to predict how you're going to react to gravity when you come back down. But it's a generalized comment that they feel heavy, their legs are heavy.”