Why is it important to study space biology?

The space environment is a harsh one for the human body. An important part of humanity’s engagement with the cosmos is thus understanding the space environment’s effects on the human body. Such research is necessary if humanity is to establish a more permanent presence off-planet. To learn more about space biology, we spoke to Sunny Narayanan, a NASA Space Biology Postdoctoral Fellow at Florida State University. He explains his research topics, why he studies space biology, and what are some upcoming exciting areas of space biology.

What do you specifically study in terms of space biology?

I study how the physiology of rodents, as model organisms, adapt to the spaceflight environment. This environment includes gravity differences (e.g., micro-, Lunar-, and Martian gravity), radiation exposure, isolation, and other factors. The physiological systems I specialize in include the cardiovascular (e.g., heart, arteries, veins, and lymphatics) and immune systems (e.g., white blood cells of various subtypes). The cardiovascular and immune systems also serve and support various organs, so I have also studied how various additional organ systems adapt. Such systems include the musculoskeletal, digestive, and neurological systems.

Why do you study space biology?

I am fascinated with our human space exploration efforts. In particular, I’m fascinated by how our journey into space increases our knowledge not just of the universe but of ourselves too. It’s interesting to study how we adapt to the space environment, of course, but doing so also gives us a perspective that enables new ways to approach, solve, and cure medical conditions on Earth.

What are some interesting areas, in your opinion, for future space biology research?

The Artemis program is the United States’ next crewed program into space, and it’s great to see increased international collaboration and partnership as we return to the Moon together. Indeed, there is much to discover and learn as we return to the Moon, a journey we have not made since the days of Apollo. We have learned an incredible amount from our time in low-Earth orbit, and we still have much to learn. I speculate that going to and returning from the Moon will result in an incredibly exhaustive list of new areas to study!