Bioastronautics: Subdisciplines

As mentioned in the introductory post, "Bioastronautics: An Introduction", bioastronautics is an increasingly diverse field. Those who study it in postgrad come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. In the M.S. and Ph.D. programs available in the U.S. at M.I.T., CU Boulder, and Texas A&M, students studied drastically different subjects such as aerospace engineering, biomedical engineering, physics, biology, and psychology. Subdisciplines have arisen due to this academic diversity. There are 5 subdisciplines that I'd like to discuss in this post:

  • Life Support Systems
  • Habitat Design
  • Space Biology
  • Spacesuit Design
  • Space Medicine
I want to note that there are other subdisciplines within bioastronautics, but these are the main ones I wanted to cover. For now, I'll give a brief overview of each subdiscipline, but expect articles in the future that go into more detail.

Life Support Systems

Life support in bioastronautics is the engineering of the systems necessary to keep humans and other organisms alive in the space environment. All manned spacecraft have a fleshed out life support system that allows for breathable air, stable cabin temperature, and protection from the space environment. A key distinction to make from the last sentence is that I didn't mention water or food production. Not all manned spacecraft are designed to be permanent, many are only meant for short-term transportation. If we were discussing long-term habitats such as the ISS, manned interplanetary spacecraft, or the upcoming Lunar Gateway, water and food production could also be considered a life support system.
The ISS's Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) [1]


Habitat Design

Habitat design in bioastronautics is similar to life support, but is focused on the design of the cabin(s) and other structures that the human or organism will live and work in. It determines where machines, amenities, and interfaces are placed as well as the interior structural design of a spacecraft or ISS module. 

The interior of the ESA's Columbus module on the ISS [2]

Space Biology

The study of how biological processes occur in space and what problems arise due to the space environment. Primarily academic, but also deals with the engineering of solutions to solve those problems. 

An image of muscle cells being studied aboard the ISS [3]

Spacesuit design

The design and engineering of spacesuits used during spaceflight or spacewalks. Is similar to life support engineering, but condenses that all down to individual use. Important problems spacesuit designers face are comfort, functionality, and safety.

Gemini Spacesuit being tested, January 1966 [4]

Space Medicine

The study and design of solutions to physiological problems that arise due to the space environment. Deals with radiation, microgravity, and other effects of the space environment on humans.

Astronaut Leroy Chiao performing an ultrasound on astronaut Salizhan Sharipov
aboard the ISS [5]