Flight Analogs Project

    The Flight Analogs Project

    Future space exploration will challenge NASA to answer many critical questions about how humans can live and work for extended missions away from Earth. The Johnson Space Center (JSC) Flight Analogs Project (FAP) provides NASA with a ground-based research platform to complement spaceflight investigations. Flight analogs can be used to simulate the effects of little or no gravity on the human body. By eliciting on Earth physiologic responses similar to those experienced by the human body in space, scientists can test and refine theories and procedures to deepen our understanding and develop countermeasures to protect humans from the effects of space travel. The use of ground analogs, such as bed rest, is essential to these efforts because access to the resources required to conduct studies in space is very limited and the expense of flight studies is significantly greater. Flight analog testing will become more and more critical to NASA to validate countermeasures given the few opportunities to use flight platforms such as the limited International Space Station (ISS) crew members per Expedition. The FAP is one way NASA will answer the challenges and issues related to space exploration, ensuring astronaut safety and productivity on extended missions to the Moon and Mars.
    Flight Analogs Project Bed rest subject at University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) Galveston enjoying a movie.

    Project Objectives

    In the FAP bed rest investigations, volunteers spend many days in a controlled research environment in the Flight Analog Research Center (FARC) located within the General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) at the University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston, Texas). The subjects lie in bed in a head-down tilt configuration at 6 degrees, with the head lower than the feet. This head-down tilt elicits physiologic changes similar to those seen in astronauts in microgravity. Medical and scientific tests are run on the subjects during the 11 to 15 days prior to bed rest and the 14 days afterward as well as a 90-day period in which they remain in bed. The pre-bed rest period is used to gather baseline data against which the bed rest data will be compared. The post-bed rest period is used to monitor recovery from bed rest and also to collect data to compare to before and during bed rest. Following bed rest, subjects are asked to return at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months for measurements.

    Researchers monitor how the subjects' bodies change over the course of the study and how quickly they recover once they are allowed to resume normal activities. Two primary goals of the studies are (1) to determine which systems in the body react to the simulated limited gravity environment in the same manner that the astronauts' bodies change in space and (2) to develop new and novel ways of preventing the adverse changes seen in the flight analogs. The methods used to prevent these adverse changes are called countermeasures and if successful, they will lead the way to new methods of counteracting the adverse effects of space travel on our astronauts.
    Flight Analogs Project Flight Analogs Project

    Service Objectives

    The Flight Analogs Project provides a facility that will provide NASA the long-term capability for conducting standardized bed rest studies. FA/BRRP also establishes collaborations with institutions sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and supported at General Clinical Research Centers (GCRCs).

    Service Objectives sectionThe FAP also provides opportunities for international participation in support of U.S. space exploration goals. This approach decreases the cost and increases the benefits of this research for all ISS International Partners. The expenses for facilities and support staff for the studies are shared by all of the participating agencies. Coordination of multinational efforts eliminates duplication of effort among International Partners and ensures that limited funds will produce maximum benefits. Coordinated multinational efforts increase the likelihood that effective countermeasures, as well as new products or prescriptions for treatment of human conditions on Earth, will be developed. Data sharing among international research teams provides all investigators with a wider context within which to interpret their own data. NASA benefits from the extensive experience of International Partners, as several partner agencies have extensive experience in performing bed rest studies, particularly long-term studies.

    Education Objectives

    The FAP will provide opportunities for graduate students and individuals receiving post-doctoral training to learn the techniques and protocols of bed rest experiments so that they will be well prepared to eventually contribute as principal investigator or co-investigator to studies intended to facilitate attainment of NASA's objectives. The FAP also will provide opportunities for new and established investigators at institutions supporting GCRCs to participate in data collection, learn the procedures and protocols of bed rest campaigns, and enhance bed rest campaigns.
    Flight Analogs Project Flight Analogs Project

    Biomedical Sciences Laboratories

    Biomedical Research and Environmental Services Division at JSC. The laboratories have responsibility for medical assessment and conducting scientific research to ensure the health and safety of all crew members. Volunteer subjects participating in bed rest studies perform many tests that are identical to tests that astronauts complete before and after spaceflight. During bed rest studies, these tests are called Standard Measures. Additional investigator tests also may be performed on the bed rest subjects. The data collected in the Standard Measures tests are provided to the FAP and shared with the science investigators. JSC laboratories participating in the bed rest campaigns include:
    • Bone
    • Cardiovascular
    • Clinical
    • Exercise Physiology
    • Immunology
    • Neurosciences
    • Nutritional Biochemistry
    • Pharmacotherapeutics