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Meet the People Behind the Human Research Program
April 25, 2013
 


NASA astronaut Steve Lindsey, STS-133 commander, exercises using the advanced Resistive Exercise Device (aRED) on the International Space Station.NASA astronaut Steve Lindsey, STS-133 commander, exercises using the advanced Resistive Exercise Device (aRED) on the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, exercises on the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS)on the International Space Station.NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, exercises on the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS) on the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, Expedition 34 commander, exercises using the advanced Resistive Exercise Device (aRED) on the International Space Station.NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, Expedition 34 commander, exercises using the advanced Resistive Exercise Device (aRED) on the International Space Station.

The Human Factor

"...and that was the start of my NASA journey!"

Twenty-five years ago at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Lori Ploutz-Snyder accepted a job that would be a precursor to her most exciting career opportunity.

Since she was a kid, Lori knew she wanted to do exercise physiology, but her career path did not start there. "I was really interested in environmental physiology. I went to a PHD program in environmental physiology," Lori explained, but soon realized that "it really was not what I was expecting."

They said "why don't you come down and try this 9-month position – see if you like it! If you like it, maybe you could do your PHD and your research here…and that was the start of my NASA journey!"

Lori stayed at KSC for about 4 years and completed her dissertation research. After earning her PhD, she left NASA to complete a post-doctoral fellowship at Michigan Sate University and then went on to accept an Assistant Professor position at Syracuse University. She stayed at Syracuse for almost 15 years, eventually becoming a Full Professor and Department Head. But new opportunities would change her career path once again.

"After a nearly 20 year absence from NASA, I became aware of a job opportunity that described exactly what I had been trained to do all those years ago [at KSC], which was the design of exercise programs for space flight."

"But now, we had the space station, and we had exercise equipment [on the space station]" Lori reflected. "I thought it was a really exciting time to get back into exercise physiology."

"I do a lot of different things that's what makes it so fun!"

Currently the Lead Scientist for Exercise Physiology and Countermeasures at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Lori Ploutz-Snyder works on the design and implementation of research projects optimizing exercise countermeasures for long-duration space flights. Her team also develops exercise hardware and countermeasures for really long-duration space flights, like exploration trips that would span multiple years.

So what are countermeasures? Lori defines countermeasures as "…something that will help improve the health for the cardiovascular system, muscle and bone. And in my case, its exercise."

"We know there is de-conditioning that's associated with weightlessness and the longer you're in that environment the bigger of an issue it is. Exercise is one countermeasure, or one thing you can do, to prevent losses in those systems," In the Exercise Physiology and Countermeasures lab, "what we're seeking to do is design exercise programs so that [crewmembers] can maintain their cardiovascular fitness, their skeletal health and their muscle strength, endurance, and performance both during and after spaceflight."!"

Lori comments that it's those challenges that inspire her to come to work every day. "You just don't know what to expect. You don't know what will go right or what will go wrong and usually when there's a problem or a difficulty, it is some new thing that hasn't happened before. It's a big investigation! she smiles.!"

In 2011 a new investigation would become one of Lori's favorite experiences at NASA. A research project, a new exercise prescription on the International Space Station, had its first participant.!"

"Watching the landing in Russia, knowing that the first person to finish this new program would be back at JSC within 24-hours ready to be tested was really exciting… and part of the reason that I came [to NASA]. It's these research opportunities that she likes most about her job.!"

"No two days are ever the same. No two problems are ever the same. It is a really interesting job and it doesn't get boring." Lori continues, "It's sometimes frustrating, it's sometimes disappointing. It's sometimes thrilling and exciting – there are a lot of adjectives you could use – boring is not among them!"

"If it looks like a really cool opportunity, do it!"

"One of the messages I have for students and people thinking about new opportunities is, if it looks like a really cool opportunity, do it! You never know where it will lead."

"In my case it took nearly 20 years to come back to NASA, but it was because of my involvement with the NASA educational program when I was in my early twenties – that is what brought me to this job."

"It's really cool to be giving back." said Lori. "It makes the circle complete."

Resources:

VIDEOS:

EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES:

EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM:

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Page Last Updated: August 13th, 2013
Page Editor: Jeffrey Brief