Effects Of Weightlessness On Muscle Could Hamper Mars Mission

08.18.10 | FL News Team

Astronauts may not be physically able to handle a trip to Mars.  Researchers at Marquette University in Wisconsin took biopsies of the calf muscles of nine astronauts and cosmonauts before and after they spent 180 days on the International Space Station.  They found that prolonged weightlessness caused so much of the astronauts' muscle mass to waste away that their ability to do physical work was reduced by more than 40 percent.  The scientists say that means a crew member between the ages of 30 and 50 would be as weak as a typical 80-year-old after an extended stay in space.

On top of that, astronauts who had the most muscle mass going into space saw the biggest muscle loss by the time they got back to earth.  Scientists say that could prove disastrous on a Mars mission, which could last three years.  The Marquette study was the first cellular analysis of how long-duration space flight affects human muscle.  It is published in the "Journal of Physiology."