Classroom Activity

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Key Topics: Diffusion, Osmosis, Homeostasis, Human Physiology

Renal stones are small rock-like objects made from deposits of calcium and other minerals that form in the kidneys or urinary tract. Because astronauts are at risk to an increase in bone demineralization when exposed to reduced gravity, this also increases the risk of developing renal stones. In this activity, students will utilize their knowledge of biology and the human body to examine this issue.

Students will
  • review the structure and function of the urinary system, and apply the principles of diffusion, osmosis, and homeostasis to electrolyte and plasma fluid levels within the human body;
  • examine the physiological impact of increased blood calcium levels and reduced urine output on the formation of renal (kidney) stones in microgravity environments;
  • evaluate hydration, diet, and mineral supplements as countermeasures to renal stone formation; and
  • understand the biochemical importance of calcium in human physiology with respect to muscle contractions and voltage-charged action potentials.

› Renal Stone Risk to Astronauts Educator Edition (PDF 293 KB)
› Renal Stone Risk to Astronauts Student Edition (PDF 222 KB)

Related Resources:
› ARTICLE: Renal Stone Risk During Spaceflight: Assessment and Countermeasure Validation
This is an experiment that was performed on the ISS. The experiment is explained and an overview of the results is given. Published 3-22-12.

› ARTICLE: Strong Bones and Fewer Renal Stones for Astronauts
This is a description of an investigation done on the ISS by HRP at JSC and JAXA using Bisphosphonates as countermeasures to spaceflight induced bone loss. If the medicine were to be effective it could mean that astronauts could spend more time on science by saving some of the time now spent exercising. It would also be valuable in case of exercise equipment failure and for injury or illness. Published 2-23-12.

› ARTICLE: Twinkle, twinkle kidney stone: With a push you could be gone
This is a news release from NSBRI about ultrasound technology being used to detect and treat kidney stones. The article goes into the details of how this is done and how the technology could be used in other situations as well. Published 1-31-12.