It is hoped that this work will foster more effective preventative measures that can be taken while in space, or during preparation for space missions, to mitigate or possibly even prevent the loss of muscle strength and size that occurs during space missions. This is a real concern since NASA is committed to exploring the surface of Mars with a manned flight. A journey to Mars is expected to take 6-7 months in each direction. Such an extensive duration will severely impair normal neuromuscular function and may serve as a major obstacle to the successful completion of mission-specific tasks to be completed on the surface of Mars. Colleen hopes that her work may assist NASA clinicians and exercise scientists in developing effective countermeasures programs to maintain proper neuromuscular function during spaceflight missions in the future.
Colleen Leathrum, a rising senior in the Department of Kinesiology & Health Sciences was recently awarded a prestigious Undergraduate Research Scholarship from the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. This consortium is composed of College of William & Mary, Hampton University, Old Dominion University, University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech. The grant issued is intended to investigate the effects of unloading on the neuromuscular system. It is a year-long scholarship providing $8,500 to support efforts to gain a deeper understanding of how the microgravity conditions experienced in spacecraft result in diminished neuromuscular function. A particular focus will be on potential gender-related differences in neuromuscular adaptations to unloading due to the increasing number of women participating in NASA spaceflight missions.