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ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The CARTILAGE investigation studies the degree that the astronauts’ cartilage is affected (weakened) by exposure to microgravity for an extended time, focusing on the type of cartilage found in such areas as the knees and elbows. This helps researchers to develop ways to counteract any negative effects which, in turn, helps to maintain astronaut health and performance. Findings could also be used in the prevention/rehabilitation of similar conditions on Earth.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by G. P. Brueggemann, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
G. P. Brueggemann, Germany

A. Mundermann, Germany
S. Koo, South Korea
F. Eckstein, Austria
J. Mester, Germany
W. Bloch, Germany
A. Niehoff, Germany
Anna-Marie Liphardt, Ph.D., German Sport University Cologne, Köln, Germany

European Space Agency (ESA), Noordwijk, Netherlands

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration 1
March 2013 - March 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous ISS Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview
Articular cartilage in synovial joints serves a variety of functions including providing joint congruency, transferring and distributing forces, and allowing joint movement. Healthy cartilage is the prerequisite for proper joint function, and thus for unconfined physical activity. The effects of immobilization on articular cartilage in humans are barely known and cartilage health of the lower limb joints has not been studied in microgravity. Mechanobiological factors cause changes in articular cartilage morphology and biology in a joint throughout life. Healthy articular cartilage tends to be thickest in joints that experience high forces such as the knee. Disuse induces changes in cartilage morphology and biology could be shown in previous studies in animals as well as humans. These data suggest that cartilage thickness in patients is sensitive to unloading. The CARTILAGE investigation looks at these factors.


While in microgravity, the high impact forces are absent, and this potentially could lead to cartilage degeneration or osteoarthritis. The reported changes include decreases in proteoglycan concentration and compressive stiffness, and cartilage softening.


To test the effect of unloading on cartilage thickness and volume, magnet resonance imaging (MRI) of the astronauts’ knees will be performed before and after a stay in microgravity. Blood and urine samples will be taken before, during (Urine samples only if possible) and after a stay in microgravity to investigate the effect of immobilization on biomarkers of cartilage metabolism. It is expected that:


1. Cartilage volume and thickness will decrease due to microgravity induced unloading.

2. Markers of cartilage biology will show cartilage degradation.

3. Changes in cartilage morphology and muscle volume will be positively correlated.

Information Pending

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Space Applications
With articular cartilage (found in such areas as the knees and elbows) being vital to the mobility of humans, understanding the nature of any degeneration occurring in this tissue is vital to the well-being of astronauts in orbit and on their return to Earth.  Providing a greater insight into the nature and degree of degeneration in articular cartilage in orbit will help in the development of optimal countermeasures (pharmacological, dietary or exercise-based) in order to alleviate/prevent such adverse effects and hence improve/maintain the health and performance of our astronauts.

Earth Applications
Damage to/degeneration of articular cartilage on Earth can be painful and debilitating and have a severe impact on the mobility and performance of humans.  Articular cartilage is also extremely slow to regenerate once damaged making this even more significant. By improving our knowledge of the mechanisms behind cartilage degeneration in space we can also draw conclusions to similar degeneration on earth, which could feed into improved rehabilitation/preventative techniques on earth.

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Operational Requirements
Information Pending

Operational Protocols
Information Pending

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

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Related Websites

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