In long term space flight, the mechanical forces applied to the skeleton are substantially reduced and are altered in character. This reduced skeletal loading results in a reduction in bone mass. Exercise techniques currently used in space can maintain muscle mass but the mechanical stimulus provided by this exercise does not prevent bone loss. By applying an external impulsive load for a short period each day, which is intended to mimic the heel strike transient, to the lower limb of an astronaut during a long term space flight (5 months), this study tests the hypothesis that the bone cells can be activated by an appropriate external mechanical stimulus to maintain bone mass throughout prolonged periods of weightlessness. A mechanical loading device was developed to produce a loading of the os-calcis similar to that observed during the heel strike transient. The device is activated by the astronaut to provide a transient load to the heel of one leg whilst providing an equivalent exercising load to the other leg. During the EUROMIR95 mission on the MIR space station, an astronaut used this device for a short period daily throughout the duration of the mission. Pre- and post-flight measurements of bone mineral density (BMD) of the os-calcis and femoral neck of the astronaut were made to determine the efficacy of the device in preventing loss of bone mineral during the mission. © 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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