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Risk of Intervertebral Disc Damage after Prolonged Space Flight (IVD)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Biomedical countermeasures
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human

The goal of this research is to comprehensively characterize space flight induced changes in disc morphology, biochemistry, metabolism, and kinematics. These data will be correlated with measures of back pain intensity and disability. The hypothesis is that spontaneous space flight back pain and disc herniation are due to biomechanical and biological pathomechanisms. First, microgravity leads to higher than normal physiologic disc swelling and increased disc height that may stiffen the lumbar motion segment and cause abnormal segmental movement patterns. These biomechanical changes increase risk for annular rupture, vertebral endplate microfracture, and facet joint capsule strain. Second, increased disc swelling may alter nuclear matrix osmotic pressure and nutrient transport from endplate capillaries in adjacent vertebra. These biological changes adversely affect disc cell metabolism, causing pain and inducing disc matrix degradation.

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Mao CP, Macias BR, and Hargens AR. Shoulder skin and muscle hemodynamics during backpack carriage. Applied Ergonomics. 2015. November; 51:80-4.

Sayson JV, Lotz J, Parazynski S, and Hargens AR. Back pain in space and post-flight spine injury: Mechanisms and countermeasure development. Acta Astronautica. 2013; 86: 24-38. [DOI]

Berg-Johansen B, Liebenberg EC, Li A, Macias BR, Hargens AR, and Lotz JC. Spaceflight-induced bone loss alters failure mode and reduces bending strength in murine spinal segments. Journal of Orthopaedic Research. 2015, Aug 18.

Intervertebral disk
Hydrostatic pressure
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Data Information
Data Availability
Archiving in Progress. Some restricted access data exist for this experiment.
Data Sets+ Request data

Back pain
Disc biochemistry
Disc kinematics
Disc metabolism
Disc morphology
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Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Expedition 33 09/16/2012 11/18/2012 63 days
Expedition 35 03/15/2013 05/13/2013 58 days
Expedition 36 05/13/2013 09/10/2013 166 days
Expedition 37 09/10/2013 11/10/2013 61 days
Expedition 39 03/10/2014 05/13/2014 64 days
Expedition 40 05/13/2014 09/10/2014 133 days
Expedition 41 09/10/2014 11/09/2014 29 days
Expedition 42 11/10/2014 03/11/2015 121 days
Expedition 43 03/11/2015 06/10/2015 91 days
Expedition 44 06/10/2015 09/11/2015 93 days
Expedition 45 09/11/2015 12/11/2015 91 days
Expedition 50 10/28/2016 04/09/2017 164 days
Expedition 51 04/09/2017 06/02/2017 55 days
Expedition 52 06/02/2017 09/02/2017 92 days
Expedition 53 09/02/2017 12/14/2017 102 days
Expedition 54 12/14/2017 02/27/2018 75 days
Expedition 55 02/27/2018 06/03/2018 96 days

Human Research Program (HRP) Human Research Roadmap (HRR) Information
Crew health and performance is critical to successful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Human Research Program (HRP) investigates and mitigates the highest risks to human health and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration. Risks include physiological and performance effects from hazards such as radiation, altered gravity, and hostile environments, as well as unique challenges in medical support, human factors, and behavioral health support. The HRP utilizes an Integrated Research Plan (IRP) to identify the approach and research activities planned to address these risks, which are assigned to specific Elements within the program. The Human Research Roadmap is the web-based tool for communicating the IRP content.

The Human Research Roadmap is located at:

+ Click here for information of how this experiment is contributing to the HRP's path for risk reduction.

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Johnson Space Center LSDA Office
Project Manager: Jessica Keune
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2009 Crew Health NNJ09ZSA002N