ORLANDO, Fla. — It is been more than a month since NASA’s Perseverance landed on Mars, the rover safely touching down sparking interest in many around the world for a trip to the Red Planet with astronauts on board.

What You Need To Know

  • The research will help astronauts maintain muscle mass in space

  • Lack of gravity impacts the human body in space

  • The research can also be used for those on Earth

But when it comes to long-term space flight, there are still many unanswered questions about how so much time spent in space could impact the human body. Research being done in Central Florida could help astronauts maintain muscle and blood function once they leave Earth.

Taking photo after photo inside the University of Central Florida research lab, Paola Rivera works to get a good look at her volunteer's leg.

“The muscle looks a little bit more swollen,” Rivera notes, pointing out the ultrasound images of muscle on the screen in front of her. 

She and fellow Ph.D. student Chris Proppe need to get careful measurements. They are looking at the effects of different levels of oxygen in the body, and how exercise and limiting oxygen and blood flow can impact it.  

It is not easy work but the research they are working on in the lab could have impacts that are out of this world.

“It’s kind of neat how our research aligns with their potential goals of going to Mars,” said Dr. Ethan Hill, an assistant professor at UCF within the school of Kinesiology and Physical Therapy. 

With both UCF and the Florida Space Institute, Hill spent years studying how to maintain muscle mass and strength through exercise and the impact of blood flow.

“And then learning how you can apply it. Originally, you don’t think exercise research can apply to astronauts because they’re not really exercising. But they are, they are exercising in space, they have to maintain their muscle mass,” Rivera said. 

"Anyone from astronauts to older adults to younger adults, we all need to maintain our muscle mass and function," Hill said. "For astronauts, that’s perhaps even more serious because as they fly, they’re in a very jeopardized situation where they don’t have gravitational forces to facilitate muscle development.”

Their research studying a prescription for exercise can be incorporated for astronauts in long-duration space flight to maintain muscle.

“A lot of this stuff applies to NASA too but I come from a sports medicine background and you can take a lot of similar situations, where if you’re coming off a surgery and not using that limb, how can we use what we’re learning in this and apply it to that?” said Proppe, a UCF exercise physiology student. 

Their work studying blood flow restriction and its impact on muscle size and strength is getting a lot of interest, from NASA and other groups. The work they are doing at UCF is research that is needed before we send astronauts to the Red Planet, ensuring we can safely send humans into different gravity situations for months at a time. It could even help develop strategies for mitigating cardiovascular disease for older adults.

“If we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of resistance training, that has huge applications for NASA, for older adults, for younger adults, for everyone alike,” Hill said. 

The answers this kind of research can bring is big, Hill said, he and his team are excited about the possibility it could be put to use all around our solar system.