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Photo taken from the ISS of Earth's horizon during an orbital sunset near California.

TRISH shares new health data from first all-civilian orbital space mission

Aaron Nieto


Houston, TX -

In a new paper published today in Nature, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), a consortium led by Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine with partners California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and its collaborators present spaceflight health data captured from the first all-civilian orbital spaceflight mission in history. Results from a small sample size suggest short-duration spaceflights pose no significant health risks to private astronauts. The research also lays the foundation for an open biomedical database for commercial astronauts’ health data and establishes best practices in collecting and processing this biomedical information.

The Inspiration4 mission launched on Sept. 15, 2021, and returned three days later. Despite being in low-earth orbit (LEO) only for a few days, the four crew members were vulnerable to hazards like those experienced aboard the International Space Station, including radiation exposure, sustained microgravity, confinement and isolation. The mission provided valuable information about the earliest phase of the human body’s response to these stressors.

More than 100,000 health-related data points were collected and will be used to build a knowledge base of human health and performance in space and to improve healthcare on future spaceflights and on Earth. Researchers stress the sample size of this first data set is small, and more data collection will be required to provide a robust foundation for understanding early phases of space physiology.

Inspiration4 demonstrated a diverse crew of private astronauts can successfully conduct meaningful scientific research with minimal risk and affirmed the need for developing appropriate diagnostic tools to help monitor astronauts’ health and performance in future spaceflights.

“Inspiration4 was the first opportunity to employ biomedical research methods on a spaceflight crewed entirely by private astronauts,” said Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, TRISH’s chief medical officer and assistant professor at Baylor’s Center for Space Medicine and co-author of the paper. “Civilian participants have different educational backgrounds and medical conditions compared to astronauts with career-long exposure to spaceflight. Understanding their physiological and psychological responses to spaceflight and their ability to conduct research is of utmost importance as we continue to send more private astronauts into space.”

EXPAND Space Health Database to Inform Future Missions

The Nature paper is based on environmental and biomedical data, as well as biological samples collected before, during and after the Inspiration4 mission. The compiled datasets span human biometrics, virome, cognitive performance, spacecraft environment and multi-omics assays, and will be stored in TRISH’s EXPAND (Enhancing eXploration Platforms and ANalog Definition) database and biorepository.

“The data and biosamples represent the first of, hopefully, many commercial spaceflight missions to come as we continue our work to build and bolster the EXPAND database, our first-of-its-kind space health research platform and biorepository,” said Jimmy Wu, TRISH deputy director and chief engineer, instructor at Baylor and co-author on the paper. “The research and data collected from the pioneering Inspiration4 mission is stored within EXPAND and will inform future medical research to improve the health of both space-bound astronauts and people on Earth.”

Data Highlights

The biomedical tests conducted during Inspiration4 included portable ultrasound measurements, cognitive and sensorimotor tests, surveys, physiological data collected with a smartwatch, skin swabs and biopsies and blood and saliva testing.

Reported highlights include:

  • Multi-omic analyses detected a broad set of molecular changes across multiple layers of biology.
  • Changes in viral immunity were consistent with findings from other spaceflights.
  • Half of the crew experienced space motion sickness.
  • The effects of short-duration spaceflight on cardiovascular physiology and cognitive performance were modest and highly variable between individuals.
  • Biosample collection and real-time analysis kits were validated in microgravity.
  • A miniaturized, hand-held ultrasound device was successfully tested for imaging the urinary bladder, the internal jugular vein and the eyes. This device is particularly suited for spaceflight due to its portability, wide range of applications and ease of use, requiring little to no training.

The small sample size of four crewmembers, the operational complexities of a highly constrained mission, and the limited crew time available for training are all critical factors in assessing the quality of collected data. Therefore, this first dataset cannot be interpreted as the base of confident conclusions of medical phenomena, but as the first of many data collections and a robust foundation for understanding early phases of space physiology.

“Frequent space travel is on the horizon and more commercial spaceflight participants are eager to venture forward,” said Dr. Dorit Donoviel, co-author of the paper, executive director of TRISH, and associate professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor. “We must plan appropriately and ensure scientific research in space is performed as accurately and safely for everyone. TRISH’s partnership with private space launch providers and universities demonstrates that ongoing collaboration amongst government agencies, academia, and private companies is paramount in advancing our understanding of space health.”

Other contributing authors from Baylor College of Medicine include Dr. Eric Bershad, professor in the Department of Neurology, the Department of Neurosurgery as well as a faculty member in the Center for Space Medicine, and Dr. Mohammad Hirzallah, assistant professor in the Department of Neurology. For a full list of contributing authors and affiliations, click here

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