In honor of World Asthma Day, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is preparing to undergo pre-flight airway measurements. The experiment was developed at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. It measures astronauts' breathing to determine the level of health of their lungs. The results send to the development of the best diagnostic tools for the treatment of diseases of the respiratory tract in earthly patients.
How does the experiment work? The analyzer calculates the amount of nitric oxide in the exhaled air. Too much hints at inflammation. The causes can be environmental, such as dust and pollution, or clinical, like asthma. But what happens in space?
To understand this, the crew members have to breathe into the analyzer at normal pressure, and then at a reduced pressure in the gateway, imitating pressure in habitats on Mars and lunar colonies. The measurements are then compared to see how weightlessness affects the health of the airways. In space, astronauts are fish thrown out of the water. Understanding the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of pneumonia is an important step in creating a safe working environment. The experiment is based on a study conducted at the station in 2005-2008. Preliminary results were unexpected. Nitric oxide levels were lower when astronauts were in space. But the data showed that these levels initially decreased immediately before the flight. This is still no explanation.
It is important to understand that a normal level of nitric oxide on Earth can be a sign of inflammation of the airways in space. Then there must be an exact standard for fixing the problem. The experiment began with the astronaut Samantha Christophretti's mission in 2015. So far, it was possible to obtain data from 8 crew members. Soon Alexander will join them. He will arrive on the ISS in June on the Soyuz spacecraft and will be delayed for 6 months.