Trip to Mars could leave crew dangerously weak

If a human ever sets foot on Mars, will it be a giant step or an exhausted shuffle?

Long-term space flight so weakens fitness that an astronaut heading to the Red Planet may lose up to half the power in key muscles in the course of the mission, scientists have found.

The loss - equivalent to a crew member aged between 30 and 50 returning home with the muscles of an 80-year-old - would add a major danger to a trip already laden with peril, they said.

Researchers led by Robert Fitts, a professor of biology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, took tiny samples of tissue from the calf muscles of nine US and Russian astronauts who spent around six months on the International Space Station (ISS).

The biopsies, taken 45 days before launch and on the day of return, showed dramatically how muscles atrophy in zero gravity.

The losses in fibre mass, force and power translated into a decline of more than 40 percent in the capacity for physical work, Fitts reported.

Ironically, beefing up before the trip had no impact on muscle loss. In fact, crew members who began with the biggest muscles turned out to have the biggest decline in muscle fitness.

Under one NASA scenario, a return trip to Mars using current rocket technology would take around three years, if a one-year stay on the planet is factored in.

If so, the decline in the most-affected muscles such as the calf could approach 50 percent, said Fitts.

Astronauts would tire faster doing even routine tasks, especially if they donned a space suit, and on returning to terrestrial gravity they could be so weak they might be unable to evacuate their spacecraft quickly in an emergency.

The paper has been published online by The Journal of Physiology, and will appear in print next month.

Muscle loss is a well-researched area in space medicine, but this is the first to include specific analysis of muscle cells on long-duration missions.

Fitts said the results should not discourage humans from venturing farther into space.

"Manned missions to Mars represent the next frontier, as the Western Hemisphere of our planet was 800 years ago," he said.

"Without exploration, we will stagnate and fail to advance our understanding of the Universe."

Even so, the findings clearly show the need to improve fitness regimes in space so that astronauts are exposed to high-resistance exercise and the kinds of motions they experience on Earth, he said.

Muscle loss adds to the long list of hazards facing a trip to Mars.

In addition to technical dangers, astronauts face cancer-causing damage to DNA from cosmic radiation, loss of bone density and mental stress from prolonged incarceration.

In June, six men from Europe, Russia and China were locked away in a mock spaceship in a Moscow research institute for a year and a half to simulate a manned mission to Mars.

The 520-day experiment comprises 250 days for the outward trip, 240 days for the return but only 30 days on the Martian surface.

ri/mb

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    KS1 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

    KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

    Year 1/2 Teacher

    £130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

    Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam