Space conditions: reduced gravity, constant in-door confinement, an increased daily dose of ionizing radiation and a high risk of DNA damages.
Astronauts in space are exposed to extreme circumstances, which provoke stress and a variety of health hazards.
Insights in those factors is vital to develop adequate solutions to the challenges space travelers face or will face in the future.
Bdelloid rotifers, studied by the research group of Karine Van Doninck at UNamur and ULB, appear to be a suitable model system to study the impact of microgravity and ionizing radiation on living organisms.
With its pioneering research, the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK CEN) aims to enable long-term space missions e.g. to the Moon or Mars. Together with international experts, SCK CEN supports space exploration by characterizing the composition and dose of cosmic radiation in space, by defining its biological impact and by monitoring astronauts’ health (e.g. through blood testing after space missions).
Furthermore, SCK CEN examines how to assure a healthy microbial environment and helps to develop a bio-based waste recycling system allowing oxygen, water and food production in space.
To achieve the goal of long duration human space travel, research is carried out both in space as on earth. In 2017, SCK CEN sent a first-of-a-kind bioreactor to space to test how to culture an oxygen producing and edible bacteria in space, whereas a co-worker went to Antarctica to gain insights into the impact of extreme living conditions on the human body.
In July 2019, the SPACEX-18 rocket took basaltic rock and some bacteria to the International Space Station (ISS). The objective? Examining whether ‘local’ rocks e.g. moon rocks) can be used to make biological life in space possible.
The UNamur and the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre SCK CEN are sending rotifers to the International Space Station (ISS) to reveal the underlying causes of their strong radioresistance.
An insight into the underlying causes allows us to improve the astronauts’ resistance against cosmic radiation. It opens the door to further space exploration and the research will also prove its worth on earth. These findings could, for example, lead to measures to improve the protection of professionally exposed people or cancer patients during their therapy against the negative effects of radiation exposure.
SAVING LIVES ON EARTH THROUGH SPACE EXPLORATION
At TEDxAntwerp, Sarah Baatout (SCK•CEN) talked about space exploration, how we can improve astronauts’ resistance and how it can help saving lives on Earth.