Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Biological Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Elizabeth Vargis


Elizabeth Vargis


J. R. Dennison


David Britt


Astronauts traveling or researching in space are subject to a harsh environment that includes high levels of ionizing radiation and microgravity. Ionizing radiation is dangerous to overall health because it causes double-stranded DNA breaks, increases the production of free radicals or reactive oxygen species, and leads to an enhanced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer over a person’s lifetime. Similarly, microgravity is hazardous to astronaut health because humans require gravity to maintain a healthy heart and muscular and vascular systems.

Both ionizing radiation and microgravity have been studied individually in previous research, but there is a lack of information on how these stressors work in combination to damage cellular health. To simulate the spaceflight radiation environment, Utah State University’s Space Survivability Test Chamber was used to irradiate mouse skeletal muscle cells with doses similar to what astronauts will be exposed to on a Mars mission. Microgravity was simulated within the radiation test chamber by designing a custom miniature rotary cell culture system. This device rotates muscle cells growing on polystyrene microcarrier beads so that the cell clusters remain suspended at their terminal settling velocity.

The mouse muscle cells irradiated with a long-term spaceflight dosage exhibited significant amounts of double-stranded DNA damage as well as significantly increased production of reactive oxygen species compared to the short-term mission models. The combined model of ionizing radiation and microgravity designed here is more representative of the spaceflight environment than either condition alone. Our model is a valuable platform that can be used to study the effects of space travel on a variety of cell types and test potential treatments.



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