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November 18, 2011

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Researchers to investigate health of workers on the final frontier

Irish researchers have been awarded major contracts by the European Space Agency to examine the health effects of space travel on astronauts.

Dr Dónal O’Gorman, of Dublin City University, and Dr Brian Caulfield, of University College Dublin, will look into ways of helping astronauts deal with accelerated ageing and lack of exercise while in space.

Astronauts can be on missions for up to 18 months, so they have to adapt to the specific challenges of life in space, such as the absence of gravity, high levels of radiation, and cramped living conditions, which can result in deterioration of astronauts’ heart, muscle and bone condition.

Dr O’Gorman and Dr Caulfield will address these issues and determine solutions to help astronauts function healthily on critical missions. Their research will also have applications nearer to home, as the characteristics of natural human ageing are similar to those experienced by astronauts.

Visiting Ireland this week, Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang, of the European Space Agency, said: “Keeping in shape is always important, but working out in space is even more crucial in order to counteract the detrimental effects of weightlessness.

“We still have a lot to learn about how the body reacts in space and find the best methods to keep astronauts fit, also when returning to Earth. I am very pleased that researchers in Ireland are actively participating in this important field, which eventually will help us send humans all the way to Mars.”

Dr O’Gorman will use the ESA funding to investigate novel ways to prevent the negative impact of micro-gravity on the body. He and his team will identify bio-markers to track changes in astronauts’ bodies as a result of being in space and will investigate if artificial gravity or nutritional modifications can prevent these negative effects.

Dr Caulfield is currently leading the testing of technology developed by Galway-based Biomedical Research Ltd, which offers a potential solution to the problem of how astronauts exercise aerobically in the confines of spacecraft.

The ESA funding, worth €135,000, is provided through two programmes – the European programme for life and physical sciences in space (ELIPS) and the Programme de développement d’expériences scientifiques (PRODEX). Ireland’s membership of the ESA is managed by Enterprise Ireland.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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