Medical research for long-term space missions
Astronautics has entered the era of long-term space missions. Several limiting factors for human health and performance in microgravity have been clearly identified, e.g. for the musculoskeletal system and the immune system.
It is for this reason that there is an urgent need to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which altered gravity influences and changes cell function. In particular, bone loss during long duration stays in weightlessness still remains an unacceptable risk for long-term and interplanetary flights. Furthermore, serious concerns arose as to whether spaceflight-associated immune system weakening ultimately precludes the expansion of human presence beyond Earth‘s orbit.
It follows that research is necessary for appropriate risk assessment, development of in vitro tests for medical monitoring and for the identification of targets for preventive interventions – and to provide all the necessary knowledge for long-term space flights and the exploration of new worlds.