Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/theses/2255
Date of Award
MS in Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering
Biomedical and General Engineering
College of Engineering
Long-duration spaceflight has been shown to have significant, lasting effects on the bone strength of astronauts and to contribute to age-related complications later in life. The microgravity environment of space causes a decrease in daily mechanical loading, which signals a state of disuse to bone cells. This affects the bone remodeling process, which is responsible for maintaining bone mass, causing an increase in damage and a decrease in density. This leads to bone fragility and decreases overall strength, posing a risk for fracture. However, there is little information pertaining to the timeline of bone loss and subsequent fracture risk.
This study used finite element analysis to model the human femur, the bone most adversely affected by spaceflight, and to simulate the environments of Earth preflight, a six-month mission on the International Space Station, and one year on Earth postflight. Changes in the properties of cortical and trabecular bone in the femoral neck were measured from the simulations, and used to provide evidence for high fracture risk and to predict when it is most prominent.
It was found that a risk for fracture is extremely evident in the femoral neck in both cortical and trabecular bone. Cortical bone in the inferior neck exhibited high magnitudes of damage, while the superior neck suffered the greatest increases in damage that proceeded to increase upon return to Earth. The density of trabecular bone decreased the most significantly and was not fully recovered in the following year. While it is still unclear exactly when these changes cause the greatest risk for fracture, it is possible that they will add to and advance the onset of medical complications such as osteoporosis. Additionally, the results of this study support the claim that the current countermeasure of inflight exercise is insufficient in sustaining bone mass and preserving skeletal health. The effects of long-duration spaceflight on bone health should continue to be investigated especially if future missions are to last as long as one to three years.