Benefits on Earth of previous Canadian scientific research on the International Space Station


Canadian science experiments conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are coordinated by the Canadian Space Agency. Here are some of the findings to date:


By studying the reflexes of calf muscles, Dr. Douglas Watt's (McGill University, 2001-2002) H‑Reflex experiment revealed that spinal cord excitability – i.e., the spinal cord's ability to transmit brain signals – decreased by about 35% in weightlessness. Exercise may therefore be less effective in space, posing a problem that will need to be studied further for long-duration missions. The results of H-Reflex may be of assistance in designing rehabilitation programs for people who are bedridden for long periods of time.


The EVARM project, led by the Thomson Nielsen firm (2002-2003), involved measuring how much radiation astronauts are exposed to during spacewalks. On certain parts of their bodies, astronauts receive radiation doses that are 6 to 25 times higher than those received by workers in the nuclear industry. This project helped improve a radiation detector that is now being used in over 1,000 cancer clinics worldwide. This device better protects medical staff who administer radiation treatments as well as targets and measures radiation doses delivered to tumours.


Through the Vascular study, Dr. Richard Lee Hughson (University of Waterloo, 2009-2014) discovered that astronauts returned from six months on the ISS with increased arterial stiffness equivalent to aging 10 to 20 years and that they showed signs of developing insulin resistance, a precursor of Type 2 diabetes. These findings provide insight into the risks of future spaceflights, and they suggest that single daily aerobic exercise sessions, both in space and on Earth, are inadequate to preserve cardiovascular health when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.


With the Hypersole experiment, Dr. Leah Bent (University of Guelph, 2010-2011) found that the nervous system seems to compensate for balance problems, experienced by some astronauts upon returning from space, by increasing the sensitivity of the foot sole. This hypersensitivity could help astronauts maintain their stability when their vestibular system, which is central to balance, fails them. Touch receptors in the soles of our feet play a role in stability, and the knowledge gained about that role through this experiment can be used when designing corrective devices. The elderly are especially at risk of losing their balance and falling.

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