Cardiovascular Health Consequences of Long-Duration Space Flight (Vascular) - 09.17.14

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery
ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Cardiovascular Health Consequences of Long-Duration Space Flight (Vascular) investigates the impact of long-duration space flight on the blood vessels of astronauts. Space flight accelerates the aging process, and it is important to understand this process to develop specific countermeasures. Data is collected before, during, and after space flight to assess inflammation of the artery walls, changes in blood vessel properties, and cardiovascular fitness.

Science Results for Everyone

Spaceflight can cause stiffening of the arteries, affecting the body’s ability to control blood pressure. This investigation assessed the blood vessels of astronauts and found decreased flexibility of the carotid artery during flight. Researchers found no relationship between the level of physical fitness and this decrease. The experiment also provided data on the mechanisms behind increased arterial stiffness from spaceflight.  Further research is needed to establish effective ways to counter the cardiovascular consequences of spaceflight and ultimately help treat increased arterial stiffness from aging on Earth, which can cause high blood pressure and organ damage.

The following content was provided by Richard Lee Hughson, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)

  • Richard Lee Hughson, Ph.D., University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
  • Philippe Arbeille, Universite Francois-Rabelais, Tours, France
  • Marc-Antoine Custaud, Ph.D., M.D., University of Angers, Angers, France
  • Joel Kevin Shoemaker, Ph.D., University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
  • James W. Rush, Ph.D., University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
  • Danielle Kathleen Greaves, M.Sc., University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

  • Developer(s)
    Information Pending
    Sponsoring Space Agency
    Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Information Pending

    Research Benefits
    Information Pending

    ISS Expedition Duration
    October 2009 - March 2014

    Expeditions Assigned

    Previous ISS Missions
    Vascular first began operations on Increment 21/22.

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • Cardiovascular Health Consequences of Long-Duration Space Flight (Vascular) aims to investigate the effects of long-duration space flight on the cardiovascular system of astronauts crewmembers on aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The changes on the human body brought by this unique environment could can can impact the vascular system and accelerate the stiffening of blood vessels that parallels the aging process.

    • Recent advances in medicine have linked certain blood proteins and hormones to cardiovascular stress and disease. Levels of these markers are used by doctors as early indicators of cardiovascular health. Astronauts Crewmembers will undergo blood tests before, during and after their space flights to look for these proteins and hormones, and particularly for any changes in their levels when they return from space. The astronauts crewmembers will also have images taken and pressure measurements done that measure the elasticity of their arteries before and after their flight.

    • These experiments can provide new information on cardiovascular structural and functional adaptations to long-duration space flight - changes that might impact the crewmember’s lifelong health, even beyond their return from ISS. It is important to establish clear patterns of response regarding cardiovascular risk factors for long-duration stays on ISS before longer missions are undertaken.


    The Cardiovascular Health Consequences of Long-Duration Space Flight (Vascular) investigation studies the impact of space flight on the blood vessels of long-duration space explorers. Long-term habitation on board the International Space Station can expose the human body to many unique stressors that could have life-long implications concerning cardiovascular health. The chronic change in gravitational forces, the alteration in physical activity patterns, and social factors associated with confinement, could impact structural and functional properties of the vascular system and induce changes such as accelerated stiffening and the development of atherosclerosis which may parallel the aging process. Scientists hypothesize that long-duration space travel will be associated with increased blood concentrations of markers (e.g. blood proteins) indicative of vascular growth, inflammation and oxidative stress. Scientists also hypothesize that these blood markers will accompany gravity-induced alterations in structure of arterial walls (e.g. smaller arteries), especially in the crewmember’s legs. These blood markers of vascular growth, inflammation and stress will be obtained from blood samples before launch, in flight and return to Earth. The blood markers are correlated with non-invasive functional testing including ultrasounds of vascular dimensions, vascular compliance (elasticity), endothelium dependent dilation of arteries in the arm and the leg (using simple exercises and cuff occlusion) and endothelium independent dilation of arteries in the arm and the leg (by administering a nitroglycerin spray). The impact of these functional tests will also be evaluated for short-term cardiovascular health by comparing the altered vascular dilatory processes to the results from the upright posture testing phases of the current experiments (sit and stand) on return from ISS. These experiments will provide new information on cardiovascular structural and functional adaptations to long-duration space flight, changes that might impact crewmember’s lifelong health, even beyond their return from ISS or during future long-duration missions.

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    Space Applications

    The expected long-term outcome of this research involves the development of appropriate countermeasures to prevent astronauts, undertaking long-duration space flights, from experiencing long-term cardiovascular health problems as a result of their time spent in space.

    Earth Applications

    This experiment contributes to obtaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that might contribute to premature aging of the cardiovascular system, and to detect early markers of potential atherosclerosis (condition in which fatty material collects along the walls of arteries) and inflammation.

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    Operational Requirements

    Vascular requires participation from astronauts during long-duration flights. Preflight operations (L-60 to L-30) involves structure and function testing, collection of 2 blood samples collected within a minimum separation of 2 days, and cardiac rate measurements via data sharing. During in flight operations, 2 blood samples are collected between NET FD 115, with a minimum separation of 2 days. Cardiac rate measurements and medication and exercise logs will be accessible via data sharing. Postflight operations (R+1) involves structure and function testing (R+1); collection of blood samples at R+1, and once again between R+2 and R+7; and cardiac rate measurements via data sharing.

    Operational Protocols

    Two blood sample collection sessions are scheduled in flight, NET FD 115; at least two days apart. Once tubes are collected, the samples are inserted in a centrifuge and spun over a period of 30 minutes to separate the blood components. Once spinning is completed, the samples are stored in MELFI or Glacier at -20 Celsius. Samples must remain frozen (-20°C or below) through landing and delivery to PI. Blood samples are not to be scheduled during or within three days after a sleep shift period of three hours or more. The Vascular Structure and Function sessions, and the blood draws, must be separated from the end of the SOLO diet session by at least 48 hrs.

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    Results/More Information
    Information Pending

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    Results Publications

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    Ground Based Results Publications

      Edgell H, Zuj KA, Greaves DK, Shoemaker JK, Custaud M, Kerbeci P, Arbeille P, Hughson RL.  WISE-2005: Adrenergic responses of women following 56-days, 6 degrees head-down bed rest with or without exercise countermeasures. American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 2007; 293(6): R2343-R2352. DOI: 10.1152/ajpregu.00187.2007. PMID: 17928515.

      Hughson RL.  Recent findings in cardiovascular physiology with space travel. Respiratory Physiology and Neurobiology. 2009; 169 Suppl 1: S38-S41. DOI: 10.1016/j.resp.2009.07.017.

      Trudel G, Payne M, Madler B, Ramachandran N, Lecompte M, Wade C, Biolo G, Blanc S, Hughson RL, Bear L, Uhthoff HK.  Bone Marrow Fat Accumulation after 60 Days of Bedrest Persisted 1 Year after Resuming Activities Along with Hemopoietic Stimulation - the WISE Study. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2009; 107: 540-548. DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.91530.2008.

      Arbeille P, Kerbeci P, Mattar L, Shoemaker JK, Hughson RL.  Insufficient flow reduction during LBNP in both splanchnic and lower limb areas is associated with orthostatic intolerance after bed rest. American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology. 2008; 295(5): H1846-H1854. DOI: 10.1152/ajpheart.509.2008.

      Fischer D, Arbeille P, Shoemaker JK, O'Leary DD, Hughson RL.  Altered hormonal regulation and blood flow distribution with cardiovascular deconditioning after short-duration head down bed rest. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2007 Dec; 103(6): 2018-2025. DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00121.2007.

      Guinet P, Schneider SM, Macias BR, Watenpaugh DE, Hughson RL, Traon PL, Bansard J, Hargens AR, Hargens AR.  Wise-2005: Aerobic and resistive exercises attenuate orthostatic intolerance during 60-days bed rest in women. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2009; 106(2): 217-227. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-009-1009-6.

      Demiot C, Dignat-George F, Fortrat JO, Sabatier F, Gharib C, Larina IM, Gauquelin-Koch G, Hughson RL, Custaud M.  WISE 2005: Chronic bed rest impairs microcirculatory endothelium in women. American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology. 2007; 293(5): H3159-H3164. DOI: 10.1152/ajpheart.00591.2007.

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    ISS Patents

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    Related Publications

      Blaber AP, Zuj KA, Goswami N.  Cerebrovascular autoregulation: lessons learned from spaceflight research. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2013 August; 113(8): 1909-1917. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-012-2539-x.

      Goswami N, Batzel JJ, Clement G, Stein TP, Hargens AR, Hargens AR, Sharp MK, Blaber AP, Roma PG, Hinghofer-Szalkay HG.  Maximizing information from space data resources: a case for expanding integration across research disciplines. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2013 July; 113(7): 1645-1654. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-012-2507-5.

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    Related Websites
    CSA: Vascular

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