It would be terrible if the first humans to reach Mars stepped onto the surface to discover their legs could no longer hold them. A team of Rice University students is working to make sure that doesn't happen.
Five senior bioengineering students have designed a device to help astronauts keep their skeletons strong and healthy by measuring bone mineral density loss, literally on the fly. Their design of a bone-remodeling monitor for use in microgravity shared the top prize in NASA's third annual Systems Engineering Competition.
Charlie Foucar, Shannon Moore, Evan Williams, Bodin Hon and Leslie Goldberg came up with a noninvasive device that measures the concentration of deoxypyridinoline, a bone marker found in urine.
For nearly a half-century of spaceflight, astronauts have been found to lose bone mass at a rate of up to 2 percent per month while in space. That's not a big deal on an orbital jaunt of a week or two, but residents of the international space station stay aloft for up to six months and don't have the tools on board to get a real-time measurement of what turns out to be a hazard of living in microgravity. Travelers to Mars face a six-month trip as well, and that's just one-way. Long before that can happen, NASA expects to send explorers for more extended periods to an eventual moon base in one-sixth of Earth's gravity.
When it comes to strong bones, humans are built to use them or lose them.
As it happened, Hon worked as a NASA intern and had direct experience with the design of the toilet on the next class of spacecraft, the Orion, which will eventually take astronauts back to the moon and possibly beyond. "So I know a bit about urine collection," he said.
"We looked at all of the NASA documentation about health risks for things we could reasonably address from a bioengineering approach," said Moore. "We discovered NASA had no way of determining bone loss in space and thought that would be a
|Contact: David Ruth|