Dr. Elena Tomilovskaya: ‘Our Life is a Constant Fight With Gravity'

Today, on the final day of the Asgardia's first Space Science and Investment Congress, Dr Elena Tomilovskaya from the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow shared her knowledge on the effect of space flight on human performance

As we know, weightlessness isn’t good for health. 

‘Our life is a constant fight with gravity and our organisms develop in gravity,’ said Dr Tomilovskaya.

Dr Tomilovskaya presented the whole picture of hyper gravitational motor syndrome with changes and alterations in all the segments of sensory-motor system, from muscles to motor control and high coordination of movements. 

What are the negative effects of microgravity on the human body? Atrophy and structural changes in the skeletal muscles, skeletal bones demineralization, cardiovascular reconditioning, degradation of general physical performance and many more. 

The duration of space flight kept increasing after the first flight of Yuri Gagarin who spent only 108 minutes in space. 

In 1970, two Russian cosmonauts went to space for 17 days and retuned to Earth in very bad shape. Manned flights stopped, and it took 2 years to develop the countermeasures to prevent the negative effects of microgravity. It came out rather well — working according to the developed system let Dr Valery Polyakov to conduct a record flight of 438 days.

What are the countermeasures? First of all, active physical training, like treadmill walking and running, or a bicycle ergometer. There are passive methods as well, like electro-muscle stimulators. There are measures to minimize effect of fluid redistribution like pneumatic vacuum suit Chibis, an anti-G suit, occlusion cuffs and water-salt supplements.

Today, cosmonauts use a 4-day-training cycle. First day is for maintenance high velocity characteristics of muscles, second for maintenance strength-velocity properties of muscles, third for movements coordination, and on the fourth day cosmonaut can pick any exercise he wants.

Before EVA, cosmonauts had to train on a manual bicycle to make sure their hands are strong enough. Cosmonauts had to train more than 2 hours per day, which could get very monotonous and surely took a lot of the cosmonauts' time.

Ground-based models of microgravity are used to study the reaction of organism to weightlessness. Parabolic fight is one of the ways to simulate microgravity, but it lasts less than a minute, so it’s impossible to study any long-term effects of microgravity. That’s why scientists used the dry immersion model, a bath with warm water covered with a rubber sheet, so the cosmonaut is immersed in the water while not contacting it. 56 days was the longest experiment with dry immersion, it was conducted back in the 1970s. Nowadays the usual duration of the experiment is 5-7 days, but the recent experiment studied the effects of microgravity on 10 healthy volunteers who have spent 21 days in dry immersion baths.

Next on the line is an experiment with 21 days of dry immersion coupled with artificial gravity via the short-armed centrifuge. That’s how scientists will determine whether artificial gravity is effective in preventing the changes 3 weeks in dry immersion cause to the organism.

Christina Daumann