A volunteer undergoing the "centrifuge ride" inside the Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology in Toulouse, France. Credits: MEDES/R. Gaboriaud

ESA’s BRACE Study Targets Astronaut Health

ESA's BRACE study is in full swing for the second time, investigates cycling and artificial gravity's impact on astronaut health during prolonged space missions

ESA, the European Space Agency, in collaboration with CNES, is conducting the second phase of the BRACE study (BedRest with Artificial gravity and Cycling Exercise) at the MEDES Space Clinic in Toulouse, France.

This study aims to explore the effectiveness of combining cycling exercise with artificial gravity, simulated using a human centrifuge, as a potential countermeasure against adverse physiological changes experienced by astronauts in space, such as bone demineralization and muscle atrophy.

One of the volunteers that are sticking to a strict bed routine for 60 days for the BRACE study. Credits: MEDES/R. Gaboriaud
One of the volunteers that are sticking to a strict bed routine for 60 days for the BRACE study. Credits: MEDES/R. Gaboriaud

Following the successful completion of the initial campaign in 2023, the second phase of the study has commenced with 12 volunteers and is scheduled to conclude on May 4, 2024.

These volunteers are adhering to a rigorous 60-day bed rest protocol, maintaining a reclined position with their feet elevated and one shoulder in constant contact with the mattress. Their daily routine includes meals, hygiene activities, and scheduled periods of both intensive cycling exercise and centrifuge sessions.


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Why and how

BRACE’s structured two-month bed rest schedule have the objective of investigating the potential mitigating effects of cycling and artificial gravity on the physiological changes observed in the human body during extended periods in space. Astronauts encounter similar physiological challenges to elderly and immobilized individuals on Earth, including cardiovascular deconditioning and musculoskeletal deterioration.

Male participants aged between 20 and 45 years, in good physical and mental health, are subjected to a bed tilt of 6° below the horizontal position to induce physiological responses akin to those experienced in microgravity. Through careful monitoring, researchers observe how blood distribution and muscle activity are affected by prolonged bed rest.

A volunteer undergoing the "centrifuge ride" inside the Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology in Toulouse, France. Credits: MEDES/R. Gaboriaud
A volunteer undergoing the “centrifuge ride” inside the Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology in Toulouse, France. Credits: MEDES/R. Gaboriaud

Volunteers are divided into three groups: one group performs cycling exercises in bed, another group engages in cycling while being subjected to centrifugal forces on the human centrifuge, and a control group remains in bed without any exercise regimen.

The centrifuge replicates artificial gravity, exerting forces on all bodily organs simultaneously, with volunteers experiencing a doubling of gravitational force towards their feet during centrifuge rides. Scientists are optimistic that artificial gravity could serve as a viable solution to maintain astronauts’ physical fitness and well-being during extended space missions.


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For a more healthy future in space, hopefully

As the second phase of the BRACE study approaches its conclusion, scheduled for May 4, 2024, researchers from 14 European and international scientific teams are actively analyzing data from both campaigns to evaluate changes in various physiological systems, including cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and immunological parameters.

The findings from this study hold significant implications for enhancing our understanding of the effects of prolonged bed rest on human health, with potential applications for both space exploration and terrestrial healthcare.

“We encourage volunteers to reach their maximum effort on the bike, and then compare the impact with those who are not biking at all,” said Rebecca Billette, head of clinical research at MEDES, emphasizing the study’s innovative approach to bed rest research in Europe.

“We hope to understand the added value of artificial gravity to the fitness routine astronauts follow on the International Space Station,” commented in a statement Angelique Van Ombergen, lead for life sciences at ESA’s Human and Robotic Exploration division. “It could become an effective solution for a healthier body during long-duration space missions, if the technological challenges can be overcome,” she added.


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Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & Administrator. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

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