Bremen, October 28, 2021. This coming Sunday morning at 7:21 a.m. (CET), Matthias Maurer will be the first German astronaut from the European Space Agency ESA to be carried on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher bound for the Crew Dragon capsule at the ISS space station, some 400 kilometers away. During his six-month “Cosmic Kiss” mission, he will be performing two experiments that have been qualified for space flight by OHB System AG, a subsidiary of space group OHB SE. As part of the “EasyMotion” project, Matthias Maurer will be donning an EMS (electro-muscle stimulation) suit in order to overcome muscle loss as effectively as possible. In the “Bioprint FirstAid” experiment, an innovative “handheld bioprinter” is to apply a bioink that contains the body’s own cells to skin wounds. The experiments are to be completed at the end of November.
Electrostimulation for improved muscle training in space
Before a device is allowed to fly into space, it must be thoroughly checked and adapted for use on board the ISS. The EMS suit, in which Matthias Maurer will be exercising on several occasions for 20 minutes at a time, has also had to undergo the scrutiny of the OHB astronautical space flight team. “First, the suit system was revamped. This involved the power box, the positioning of some of the plugs and functions and the integration of a space-ready battery. During subsequent qualification, the sports suit had to undergo environmental and functional testing,” says Dr. Marco Berg, Head of Human Spaceflight at OHB. Matthias Maurer will be completing EMS-assisted training three days a week over a period of twelve weeks in a total of 36 sessions. “Muscle loss in weightless conditions is a well-known risk in astronautical space travel. An astronaut must train for about two and a half hours a day to prevent this. The purpose of this experiment is to find out whether this training time can be shortened with the help of EMS,” explains Dr. Marco Berg. The EasyMotionSkin training system and app were developed by EMS GmbH in Leipzig, Germany, which is a subcontractor of OHB in this project. The center of space medicine at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is responsible for the scientific management of “EasyMotion”.
Training progress is monitored by a device well known at OHB: MyotonPRO. This is a small, compact digital device for measuring muscle tone (muscle rest tension) and muscle stiffness, which OHB had previously qualified for the “horizons” mission conducted by German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst in 2018. In addition to “EasyMotion”, MyotonPRO is also being used for “Myotones” for Matthias Maurer on board the ISS. The “EMS”, “Bioprint FirstAid” and “Myotones” projects are being carried out at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Bonn on behalf of the German Space Agency and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).
Bioprinter FirstAid: The modern plaster for wound care in space
The farther away astronauts are from the earth, the greater is the risk that it will not be possible to treat them quickly enough in the event of an injury. A quick return to Earth is out of the question in an emergency particularly on astronautical missions to Mars for example, which is why it is crucial to have a medical infrastructure in place. The Handheld Bioprinter could be used as a device for treating superficial and large-scale skin injuries. It applies a body-identical skin patch to the wound, thus helping it to heal more quickly and effectively. However, the device is initially not to be tested on the human body but on simulated skin cells in space conditions in the “Bioprint FirstAid” experiment on board the ISS. The samples will be subsequently returned to the earth, where they will be evaluated by a team at Dresden Technical University, which is the scientific partner for the experiment.
Yet, this is all still a dream for the future. For the time being, the astronautical team is eagerly awaiting the launch. Says Dr. Marco Berg: “We are happy and proud to be participating in two such exciting experiments with Matthias Maurer during the “CosmicKiss” mission and hope that the two experiments will be completed successfully.”