NASA selects Marquette University professor for space flight research

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- NASA has selected  Dr. Sandra Hunter, associate professor of exercise science in the College of Health Sciences at Marquette University, to conduct gender-based flight research.

Dr. Hunter is a leading expert in gender-based neuromuscular research. NASA selected Hunter to review the latest findings on sex and gender differences in the musculoskeletal system during space flight.

The review, coordinated in conjunction with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, examines the “Impact of Sex and Gender on Adaptations to Space.”

“Our review found that space flight in general resulted in marked reductions in muscle strength and power, as much as 20 to 30 percent in two to three months,” Hunter says. “There’s evidence that women have even greater losses of muscle strength and mass than men when talking about the effects of space flight.”

In addition, the team found that strength loss equates to roughly double the loss of muscle mass, and women may take longer to recover post-flight.

“Our findings indicate that much more research is required to fully understand sex differences in response to muscle loss,” Hunter says. “But it also shows that there are definite differences that will be apparent.”

The research teams will first present their findings at a NASA and NSBRI online workshop on Tuesday, June 25, and will publish their research at a later date. The purpose of the review and workshop is to identify research priorities specific to sex and gender physiology that could be mission-critical for future space flight missions.

NASA recently announced eight new astronauts – its first group in four years – and four of the eight are women, the highest percentage ever chosen.