Photo courtesy of: Lori Ploutz-Snyder
Sep 26, 2012
By Maggie Krueger
Imagine lying in bed for six months straight. That level of inactivity mirrors the effects of a lack of gravity on the body. Astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) who spend extended periods in a weightless environment risk muscle atrophy and bone demineralization.
Ellery Golos Lecturer and NASA Project Scientist Lori Ploutz-Snyder will present, "A Human Mission to Mars? Physiologic Barriers to Long Duration Space Flight," at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, in the Honors Tutorial College's Common Room at 35 Park Place. The event is free and open to the public.
Ploutz-Snyder, a three time Ohio University alumna, develops strategies to mitigate the debilitating physiologic effects of long-term spaceflight. Her team's work is of particular importance as NASA continues research on a three-year mission to Mars.
"No two days here are ever the same," said Ploutz-Snyder, who has worked at the Johnson Space Center in Texas for the last four years.
Born and raised in Athens, Ploutz-Snyder earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at Ohio University with an emphasis on exercise physiology. Her Ph.D. training took her to the Kennedy Space Center where she completed her studies under the late Gary Dudley, a professor whom she met as an undergraduate in the Honors Tutorial College.
"I was looking at the training of muscles and how that changed during long periods of use and disuse," said Ploutz-Snyder, describing her dissertation.
She explains that the day-to-day gravitational loading our muscles engage in is absent in the low gravity astronauts experience for upwards of six months in the ISS. To understand the effects of such unloading, Ploutz-Snyder needed to simulate an environment of weightlessness.
Ploutz-Snyder said that in the early 90s, initial research was being done on muscle atrophy in space, but the problem remained of creating weightlessness within the confines of Earth's gravity.
In a 30-day study, she endeavored to observe the muscle deterioration of a suspended leg, which was an analogy for the muscle disuse of long-duration space flights.
"We had a subject walking with crutches and one high-heel shoe," she explained.
In the two decades since earning her Ph.D. in physiology, Ploutz-Snyder has completed a post-doctoral fellowship in physiology and radiology at Michigan State University, taken a faculty position as professor and chair of Exercise Science at Syracuse University, and completed research related to dehydration and skeletal muscle sponsored by the Department of Defense.
Currently she serves as NASA's lead scientist for exercise physiology and countermeasure development at Johnson Space Center. She has been involved with the design of an entire workout gym located in the ISS, where astronauts may do anything from weightlifting to running on a treadmill – in zero gravity.
"Most recently our team developed the bicycle program Suni Williams used," explained Ploutz-Snyder. In September, Williams became the first person to ever complete a triathlon in space.
"Probably one of my favorite parts of the job is that it is part operations and part research," said Ploutz-Snyder. "You can see how [the research] helps someone."
Even while working alongside astronauts and watching her exercise programs and equipment travel to space, Ploutz-Snyder said she would not take the journey herself.
"It's too much like camping," said Ploutz-Snyder, noting she would miss the fresh food and refreshing showers.