Predicting the effects of spaceflight on the human body can be very
challenging. Humans have not spent enough time in reduced gravity
to accurately determine the risk of health problems for future exploration
As NASA plans for longer, more physically demanding missions,
mission planners need to better understand how human physiology
is altered during spaceflight to establish health and safety
requirements for these new missions. To this end, NASA has conceived
of the Digital Astronaut Project. The Digital Astronaut
Project, led out of the Johnson Space Center and in partnership
with Glenn Research Center and the University of Mississippi
Medical Center, is an effort to create a detailed computer model
of the entire human physiological function that can be used
to predict the effects of spaceflight on each physiological
system. All body systems, such as the cardiovascular and vestibular
systems, will be simulated at the level of detail required to understand
the effects of spaceflight.
As part of this computational effort, Glenn is responsible for
creating detailed modules that predict functional cardiac changes,
alterations in bone remodeling physiology and changes in muscle
activation resulting from extended duration reduced gravity
Glenn recently completed work on a module simulating renal stone formation
and transport in microgravity.
In addition to these detailed models, Glenn is also responsible
for leading project wide verification and validation of the
integrated model. Glenn leads the effort in setting processes used to insure
that predictions made by each simulation are as computationally accurate
and physiologically well-founded as possible. Additionally, validation
efforts led by the GRC team will help quantify the operational limits
over which Digital Astronaut simulations can be used to inform researchers
and decision makers regarding the physiological risks involved with
Glenn was selected for these roles in the project because of
longstanding expertise in creating integrated computational simulations,
especially in the areas of finite element and fluids structure interaction
As an ongoing part of these simulations, the Digital Astronaut
will reflect the effects of reduced gravity so the body’s
reaction to spaceflight can be determined. Then, health problems
can be studied to see how the body would respond in a reduced
Glenn’s contributions to the development of the Digital
Astronaut will help determine the safety of astronauts during
future missions to the moon and Mars. The computer model of
the human physiology will also be useful to the medical community
because it will aid in understanding disease, perhaps leading
to improvements in pharmaceuticals, surgical procedures and
treatments. The Digital Astronaut may also become a beneficial
teaching aid in medical schools.
model of the human heart.
image of human aortic valve leaflet.
representation of aortic valve.