Henry Donahue, Ph.D., is clear about how exciting U.S. goals are in space travel.
“We are going back to the moon … and we are going to Mars,” he said in June at a Health in History series event co-hosted by the MCV Foundation and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
Dr. Donahue is the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Endowed Professor and Chair in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the VCU College of Engineering. He has worked with NASA since 2011 studying the health effects of space travel. He shared some of his findings and insights at the June event.
As space travel emerges as a commercial endeavor, and as astronauts prepare for more lunar and the first-ever Martian missions in the coming years, Dr. Donahue’s work is critical to understanding how bone and muscle disuse, microgravity, space radiation and other factors affect humans.
Research in this area is not just for the benefit of the roughly 600 U.S. astronauts and a handful of wealthy space tourists, it could be applicable to people around the globe for one main reason: the effects of space travel on the body are strikingly similar to aging, but occur at a faster rate.
Research has shown that spending time in space causes immune system dysfunction, stiffening of arteries, cognitive decline, loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, and loss of bone mass.
If we can understand, prevent or slow down these effects in astronauts, Dr. Donahue told guests in June, the same interventions could make significant impacts on the health of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
The lecture, titled Science in Space: Does Space Travel Accelerate Aging?, was the fifth in the Health in History series and was made possible by a grant from the Virginia Sargeant Reynolds Foundation. The partnership between the MCV Foundation and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture that makes this series possible each year exists thanks to Austin Brockenbrough III, a trustee of the museum and a lifetime honorary trustee of the foundation.