Over the last several years researchers at USRA's Division of Space Life Sciences has had a significant role with the NASA Digital Astronaut Project (DAP). The DAP implements a suite of detailed computational models to predict and assess spaceflight health and performance risks, which will be helpful in planning astronauts' future missions into space and studying the physiological effects of reduced gravity. The DAP's models also enhance countermeasure development and ultimately provide timely input to designing missions and to operations decisions in areas where clinical data are lacking.
The current focus of the project is modeling and simulating exercise countermeasures aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED). Astronauts use ARED as one of their exercise devices, such as vacuum cylinders for free weights, to maintain muscle strength and prevent bone density loss while in space. On average, astronauts get about 2.5 hours of physical exercise a day.
Recently, the need for swift and efficient preventative maintenance of the ARED's flywheels was demonstrated in order to optimize resistive loading during the astronauts' exercise sessions. Such maintenance and necessary repairs are also essential to a flight study protocol, which DAP is also working to inform. If crewmembers suffer loss to their physiological performance, this could translate to threats to their safety and to devastating effects of missions.