Astronauts living in the International Space Station (ISS) in the microgravity grow up to 3% taller. Although the astronauts regain their original height, when they come back to Earth, but it is a matter of research why the astronauts grow taller?
The Spinal Ultrasound investigation has been done to check for the impact of the change of the height on the spine.
“This is the very first time that spinal ultrasound will be used to evaluate the changes in the spine,” Scott A. Dulchavsky, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator for the station study, said in a statement. “Spinal ultrasound is more challenging to perform than many of the previous ultrasound examinations done in space.”
Ultrasound 2, which is a machine in the space station for human health studies, now helps the astronauts to check for the inner workings of the bodies.
“Today there is a new ultrasound device on the station that allows more precise musculoskeletal imaging required for assessment of the complex anatomy and the spine,” Dulchavsky said. “The crew will be able to perform these complex evaluations in the next year due to a newly developed Just-In-Time training guide for spinal ultrasound, combined with refinements in crew training and remote guidance procedures.”
This method would help to study the changes to the spine in real-time and would also be beneficial for imaging of the patients in clinical applications on Earth.
“Ultrasound also allows us to evaluate physiology in motion, such as the movement of muscles, blood in vessels, and function in other systems in the body,” said Dulchavsky. “Physiologic parameters derived from ultrasound and Doppler give instantaneous observations about the body non-invasively without radiation.”
Trial of these spinal ultrasound scans will take place on six crew members this month. An astronaut will check the spinal area of a fellow crew member at 30, 90 and 150 days into flight. Researchers on ground will also look at the observations through streaming video downlinks. Cervical and lumbar areas of the spine and the neighboring tissues will be the focus of the ultrasound images. Pre- and post-flight ultrasound and MRI scans will also be done on the subjects on Earth.
This ultrasound technology could also be used on Earth and could be used as an alternative to MRIs for healthcare needs.
“This technique in spinal ultrasound may someday serve as a clinical data source where standard MRI imaging is not available, even if this seems ambitious,” Dulchavsky said. “The vast majority of the global population has no access to an MRI. The in-flight tools such as the interactive Spinal Ultrasound guide can also be used to train other complex procedures, albeit medical or otherwise.”
Ultimately, this study would help to understand the mechanism behind the question, “why do astronauts get taller in space?”