ready for takeoff

Houston space health institute to send experiments on upcoming SpaceX mission

Houston-based TRISH's research will be done aboard the Polaris Dawn by its crew, which includes, from left to right, Mission Specialist and Medical Officer Anna Menon, Mission Pilot Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Mission Commander Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Mission Specialist Sarah Gillis. Photo courtesy Polaris Program/John Kraus

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health at Baylor College of Medicine, or TRISH, announced this month that it will perform research experiments aboard SpaceX's upcoming Polaris Dawn mission that will look into everything from human vision to motion sickness to radiation levels while in space.

The research aboard Polaris Dawn will complement research supported by TRISH on the Inspiration4 all-civilian mission to orbit, which was also operated by SpaceX in 2021.

“The Institute’s mission is to help humans thrive in deep space,” Dr. Dorit Donoviel, TRISH executive director and associate professor for the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor, said in a statement. “We are grateful to our commercial space exploration partners, and in particular, the Polaris Program, who recognize how important it is to carry out and support health research in their missions, as a route to improving health for all humans in space and on Earth.”

Polaris Dawn is slated to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than March 2023. It is part of SpaceX's Polaris Program, which proposes three space missions. The first mission aims to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown.

Four crew members will be onboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for the Polaris Dawn mission. TRISH's experiments are part of 38 experiments from institutions that will be conducted on board at high-altitude Earth orbit.

The experiments are supported by federal funding from TRISH's cooperative agreement with NASA, as well as a donation from the Polaris Program.

According to a statement from TRISH, the experiments will include the following:

  • Collecting data related to the vision condition Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS), which is a top risk to human health in long-duration spaceflight
  • Quantifying alterations in body composition and fluid distribution during exposure to weightlessness
  • Directly measuring intracranial pressure changes to quantify the effects of weightlessness on the brain
  • Measuring cognitive performance, which reflects fitness for duty
  • Collecting biometric data to track physiologic changes, which could inform on changes in overall health
  • Using miniaturized, intelligent ultrasound to train the astronauts to scan themselves and deliver medical quality images
  • Testing ways to predict space motion sickness to improve crew safety and in-mission performance
  • Collecting data on the radiation environment to observe how space radiation may affect human systems
  • Providing biological samples for multi-omics analyses and storage in a long-term biobank to be available to researchers in the future

TRISH launched the first-ever commercial spaceflight medical research program in 2021, known as the Expand—Enhancing Exploration Platforms and Analog Definition—Program. Future findings from the Polaris Dawn mission will be added to the database, which compiles in-flight health data from multiple spaceflights.

TRISH was founded in 2016 with the mission of addressing the most pressing health risks and challenges associated with human deep space exploration.

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