NSF Fellow Stefanie Gonzalez: Keeping future Martians’ bones strong

September 11, 2013

Founding a colony on the surface of Mars would be fraught with challenges, from what future Martians would eat to how they’d protect themselves from galactic cosmic rays. But among the difficulties would be how to keep astronauts’ bones from winnowing away. Just during the months long trip to arrive at the red planet, astronauts’ bones would become so fragile in the zero-gravity environment that, when they landed on the Martian surface, their bones would be so weak that their ability to leave their flight vehicle would be limited.

On Earth, the load of gravity on our skeletons keeps our bones strong. Gonzalez is working to develop countermeasures for astronauts that mimic the effects of Earth’s gravitational load. Her research is focusing on the importance of phosphate regulation on bone strength. “When you’re losing bones, you’re losing calcium and phosophate,” she said. “But traditionally people have looked only at controlling calcium.”

Gonzalez is able to test the effectiveness of phosphate regulation therapies with the help of space-faring mice. “We’ll work with animals that have flown in space,” she said. Mice have hitched rides on several of the last space shuttle flights in habitats built by CU-Boulder’s Bioserve Space Technologies.

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