medicine in orbit

Space health nonprofit to send 6 more experiments to space on Houston company's next mission

TRISH is sending six research projects onboard Axiom Space's next mission, which is expected to launch in January. Photo via

A Houston organization announced that it plans to launch six more experiments into space next year that look to learn more about everything from motion sickness to genome alterations during space travel.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, which is part of BCM’s Center for Space Medicine, will team up once more with Houston-based Axiom Space on its third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, Ax-3, which is expected to launch in January. TRISH also sent experiments on Axiom's Ax-2 mission that launched in May.

The experiments are part of TRISH's Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition (EXPAND) program, which aims "to help humans thrive on future space missions," according to a release.

“Our commercial spaceflight partners such as Axiom Space are instrumental to cutting-edge research, including these projects designed to reveal how the human body and mind function in the extreme environment of space,” Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, TRISH chief medical officer, EXPAND program lead and assistant professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor. “This work represents an important step in our journey to understand the body's response to challenging conditions, which is critical for improving human health both here on Earth and on future long-duration missions, including to the Moon and Mars.”

The six project onboard Ax-3 include:

  • Cognitive and Physiologic Responses in Commercial Space Crew on Short-Duration Missions, Mathias Basner, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine: Basner’s team will track spaceflight participants’ memory, abstraction, spatial orientation, emotion recognition, risk decision-making and sustained attention before and after space travel
  • Otolith and Posture Evaluation II, Mark Shelhamer, Sc.D., Johns Hopkins University: Shelhamer's team will study how inner ears and eyes sense and respond to motion before and immediately after spaceflight to predict who is likely to develop space motion sickness.
  • Space Omics + BioBank, Richard Gibbs, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine: Gibbs’ team will gather biological specimens from astronauts before and after their mission to assess the effects of spaceflight on the human body at the genomic level.
  • SANS Surveillance, TRISH: The institute will study Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome by collecting vision function data during the ground phases of the mission.
  • Standardized research questionnaires, TRISH: The institute will gather contextual and qualitative data points for its EXPAND research database related to sleep, personality, health history, team dynamics and immune-related symptoms.
  • Sensorimotor adaptation, TRISH: The institute will collect data on how spaceflight participants' ability to stand, balance and have full body control.

Ax-3 is Axiom's third commercial astronaut mission to the ISS, which the company announced in March. The crew, which includes Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Walter Villadei, and Mission Specialists Alper Gezeravcı and Marcus Wandt, will spend 14 days on the ISS. The mission will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

Axiom also has plans for its fourth private mission, Ax-4, which it announced in August.

In addition to the partnership with Axiom, TRISH also announced late last month that it has made a new agreement with the Australian Antarctic Division's Polar Medicine Unit. The collaboration will nominate pilot projects that focus on challenges associated with extreme isolation, which have applications in long-duration space travel to the Moon and Mars.

“Our international collaboration with the AAD will extract insights to benefit all future astronauts, as well as other explorers of extreme environments,” said Dr. Dorit Donoviel, associate professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor and TRISH executive director. “This agreement marks the beginning of yet another exciting venture into space health research for TRISH, and we look forward to collaborating with the AAD to advance our shared goal of promoting safe human exploration.”

In March, TRISH also announced an international agreement with the Korea National Institute of Health. The two organizations plan to collaborate on research related to mental health issues due to space travel, the challenges of food supply in deep space, the negative effects of space radiation and en-suite medical care for long-duration space travel.

TRISH is also slated to launch nine experiments on board SpaceX's Polaris Dawn mission, which is now expected to launch no earlier than 2024. The research aboard Polaris Dawn is intended to complement research supported by TRISH on the Inspiration4 all-civilian mission to orbit.

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