Bioastronautics is a specialty area of
bioengineeringresearch which encompasses numerous aspects of biological, behavioral, and medical concern governing humans and other living organisms in a space flightenvironment; and includes design of payloads, space habitats, and life supportsystems. In short, it spans the study and support of life in space.
Of particular interest from a biological perspective are the effects of reduced gravitational force felt by inhabitants of spacecraft. Often referred to as "
microgravity", the lack of sedimentation, buoyancy, or convective flows in fluids results in a more quiescent cellular and intercellular environment primarily driven by chemical gradients. Certain functions of organisms are mediated by gravity, such as gravitropismin plant roots and negative gravitropism in plant stems, and without this stimulus growth patterns of organisms onboard spacecraft often diverge from their terrestrial counterparts. Additionally, metabolic energy normally expended in overcoming the force of gravity remains available for other functions. This may take the form of accelerated growth in organisms as diverse as worms like " C. elegans" to miniature parasitoid wasps such as "Spangia endius". It may also be used in the augmented production of secondary metabolitessuch as the vinca alkaloids Vincristineand Vinblastinein the rosy periwinkle(" Catharanthus roseus"), whereby space grown specimens often have higher concentrations of these constituents that on earth are present in only trace amounts.
From an engineering perspective, facilitating the delivery and exchange of air, food, and water, and the processing of waste products is also challenging. The transition from expendable physicochemical methods to sustainable bioregenerative systems that function as a robust miniature ecosystem is another goal of bioastronautics in facilitating long duration space travel. Such systems are often termed
Closed Ecological Life Support Systems(CELSS).
From a medical perspective, long duration space flight also has physiological impacts on astronauts. Accelerated bone decalcification, similar to
osteopeniaand osteoporosison Earth, is just one such condition. Study of these effects is useful not only in advancing methods for safe habitation of and travel through space, but also in uncovering ways to more effectively treat the related terrestrial ailments.
NASA's Bioastronautics Roadmap [http://bioastroroadmap.nasa.gov/index.jsp]
University of Colorado at BoulderBioastronautics Research Group [http://spot.colorado.edu/~klaus/BioastroResearchGroup.htm]
*The American Society of Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB) [http://asgsb.org]
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