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Volunteers to play their part in improving astronaut health

3rd July 2024

Visitors to Newcastle’s Life Science Centre will have the chance to take part in research which could protect astronauts from injury during future missions to the Moon.

The lunar landscape is one of contrasts – a monotone environment which is either dazzlingly bright or pitch black, making it much harder to judge distance and gradient than here on Earth.

Unfortunately, this means astronauts exploring the Moon’s surface are at much higher risk of injury through trips and falls.

But a researcher from Northumbria University believes she has found a solution which is low-cost, low-tech and readily available – and will be testing her theory this weekend with the help of members of the public.

Dr Kirsty Lindsay, an Assistant Professor in Rehabilitation Sciences, has been experimenting with Kinesiology tape, or K-tape – commonly used by elite athletes who apply it to their body to provide support, lessen pain, reduce swelling and improve performance.

By applying the tape to astronauts’ ankles, Dr Lindsay believes it could provide vital additional support when navigating the unfamiliar lunar environment, thereby reducing the risk of injury.

She will be at the Life Science Centre this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday (5 – 8 July) and hopes to recruit visitors to take part in her experiment

Caption:The computerised platform which volunteers will be asked to stand on during the experimentsUsing a computerised platform, designed to mimic the challenging conditions on the Moon, she will be testing the balance of volunteers in the science centre, both before and after the tape is applied.

As she explains: “Sometimes we need to think about a challenge from a new perspective. Long-term habitation on the Moon means power could be restricted, so a simple, low-tech solution is needed. K-tape can be applied easily by anyone, in any environment, plus it is relatively low-cost and won’t cause any discomfort when worn under a space suit.

“I’m really looking forward to spending time at Life Science Centre and gathering evidence of the impact the tape has on balance. This is the first step in proving the effectiveness of K-tape – the next would be to test it in a simulated lunar environment here on Earth, then eventually for it to be tested by astronauts on the Moon.”

The results from the volunteers will be shared with the European Space Agency’s space medicine office as part of a bid to support further research.

Dr Lindsay hopes this will lead to her being awarded time at the LUNA Analog facility in Germany – a collaboration between the German Aerospace Center and the European Space Agency which simulates the conditions found on the surface of the Moon.

Caption:The Space Zone at the Life Science CentreThe volunteer experiment will be taking place in Life’s Space Zone, which features a range of space-related exhibitions, including a replica of the International Space Station.

Life Chief Executive Linda Conlon said: “This experiment provides an exciting opportunity for visitors to contribute directly to what astronauts could wear on their next mission to the Moon.  

“Collaborating with academics in this way means that our visitors can see how innovative research has real-world applications.  

“We have the most extensive space engagement programme in the North and have a long-standing partnership with Northumbria University, working together on events like these to put the spotlight on today’s space industry and highlighting the breadth of career opportunities it offers.”

Astronauts will not be the only ones to benefit from the research project – Dr Lindsay believes K-tape could also improve life for people here on Earth, as she explains: “Often if a solution works in space it will also work here on Earth and the tape could also have a positive effect on people with balance issues, older people, those recovering from illness or injury and when dealing with difficult conditions, such as icy surfaces.”

Northumbria University is powering the next generation of space innovation, attracting world-leading space academics across a multitude of specialist areas, from satellite communications to space law and policy.

Northumbria collaborates extensively with partners including UK Research and Innovation, the UK Space Agency, the UK Met Office, and over 40 other industrial partners.

Last year the University announced ambitious plans to develop a £50 million space skills, research and development centre, set to transform the UK space industry. The North East Space Skills and Technology centre (NESST) is expected to directly support the creation of over 350 jobs and inject over £260 million into the North East economy over the next 30 years, playing a critical role in the government’s levelling-up agenda and immediately becoming a catalyst for the wider development of the UK space sector in the North East region.

Discover more about how Northumbria University is powering the next generation of space innovation.

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