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Tests aim to help humans adapt to space

Zurich University researchers will be sending experiments into space to try to discover why weightlessness can cause various disorders for astronauts.

Oliver Ullrich of the university’s Institute of Anatomy said on Thursday that scientists have been given permission to conduct tests aboard the International Space Station to get a better idea of the effects of microgravity on human cells.

Astronauts become more vulnerable to skin-fungus infections while in space. Bone metabolism is often disrupted and human immune systems grow weaker. While the exact reasons are not yet known, Ullrich said answers could lie at the cellular level. The big question is whether anything can be done to help human’s adapt to the conditions, he said.

Ullrich is the head of an international team that includes a Nasa astronaut who will help carry out the experiments during the next five years. The results could have significant impacts on the future of space travel. Without a way for human cells to adapt to zero gravity, deep-space exploration becomes less likely.

The first stages of the experiments are scheduled to begin on September 16, when the United States space shuttle Discovery makes its final flight to the station orbiting some 350km above the Earth.

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