NASA -National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Digital Astronaut Simulates Human Body in Space

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 missions.

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 exposure.  Additionally, 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 space flight.

Glenn was selected for these roles in the project because of the center’s longstanding expertise in creating integrated computational simulations, especially in the areas of finite element and fluids structure interaction simulations.

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 gravity environment.

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.

M-Mode ultrasound image of cardiac tissue
Computational representation of cardiac tissue corresponding to the ultrasound image
M-Mode ultrasound image of cardiac tissue.
Computational representation of cardiac tissue corresponding to the ultrasound image.


Contacts at NASA Glenn Research Center
Project Manager: DeVon Griffin
Deputy Project Manager: Jerry Myers
Technical Lead: Mohammad Kassemi
Three-dimensional model of the human heart
Three-dimensional model of the human heart.

Polarized light image of human aortic valve leaflet

Polarized light image of human aortic valve leaflet.

Computational representation of aortic valve
Computational representation of aortic valve.


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