Space Shuttle Returns and Studies Begin on Astronauts Health

“On Earth, said Blaber, the heart and circulatory system are constantly working against the forces of gravity to pump blood to the brain and other organs especially when we’re standing. When you remove gravity, the system becomes lazy,” said Blaber, “because it takes much less effort to circulate blood throughout the body. What’s unclear is what part of an astronaut’s circulatory system is falling down on the job.”

If anyone has kept up with the latest space news, they will recognize that Clayton Anderson, the NASA astronaut from Ashland, NE, will be coming back to Earth after being in space for five months on the ISS with the crew of the Discovery STS-120 shuttle, after being there since June 8, 2007, when he launched to the International Space Station onboard the Atlantis shuttle STS-117. Assigned as Expedition 15 flight engineer, he previously was the Crew Support Astronaut for ISS Expedition 4, whereas he provided ground support for technical issues and the crew families.

Once he arrives back to Earth, Clayton will be immediately catapulted into a new study that is researching the reasons why astronauts develop fainting spells when they return home. With such an extensive space background, which is only the top of his accomplishments, he is an excellent candidate to study for physical problems of space travel. A series of tests will be performed to assist a Canadian team of researchers, with SFU kinesiologist Andrew Blaber heading to California to perform the series of 62 minutes of tests for the research. NASA’s flight center in California and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be the location of both study teams, due to the fact about 80 percent of the astronauts who are in space for extended periods of time suffer dizziness or even fainting spells when they return to Earth, lasting several weeks after re-entry.

Several researchers believe that this condition of the astronauts has something to do with the impact of weightlessness on the astronaut’s body but up until now has not been a proven fact. When the team studies astronaut Anderson, he will have ultrasound devices hooked up to him in order to measure the volume of blood which will be going through his heart and brain, with a catheter to monitor the blood flow through his veins to study how the body’s system works together to regulate blood pressure.

Similar measurements were done before Anderson launched to the ISS, and a comparison study will be made to demonstrate the differences and results, with additional measurements taken when on board the ISS. The bad thing is that fainting by the returning astronauts becomes much worse the longer the time in spent. Once the results are in, a better understanding of the body’s blood pressure regulations may assist in understanding why some people faint after standing, such as in the elderly. Once the results of this study are completed, I would say that findings will demonstrate a serious influence of space travel on the bodies of astronauts once they return. Right now, the jury is still out.