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Spinal kinematics research with over 140 participants (including a clinically interesting group) and human spaceflight public outreach at the Newcastle Life Science Centre

In Summer 2015 a team of five from our lab spent four weeks doing aerospace research and outreach at the Newcastle Life Science Centre.  The team was led by Andrew Winnard as part of his PhD studies who acted as a placement provider for three BSc Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences students from Northumbria University and one MSc Sports Science student from the German Sport University in Cologne, Germany.  The team was performing large scale full body kinematics research as part of the FRED project, an ESA flagship medical project, and was running the NASA public outreach programme for children - Mission X - Train Like an Astronaut.

Team photo with Andrew Winnard, Arran Parmar, Joe Bulmer, Thomas Schuren and Carla Armstrong (left to right)

Building on the success of running large scale kinematic studies at the Life Science Centre the previous year, where over 130 participants had been recruited including a low back pain group, it was decided to run another study.  This time, the study was based in a new purpose built "Meet the Scientist" area of the science centre, which provided a larger space and equipment such as giant interactive touch screen displays.  These screens were used to display interactive powerpoint presentations for the public to independently learn about the study, human spaceflight and medical issues caused by long term deconditioning.  These screens were also used to host a live call in from Concordia Base in Antartica allowing those attending our event to talk directly to Dr Beth Healy, the ESA medical doctor overwintering at the base and also show live feeds from the International Space Station of space walks.  One challenge from previous research events at the Life Science Centre, was providing a supervised activity for children while their parents could participate in the FRED study.  Two student volunteers, Joe Bulmer and Carla Armstrong, ran the NASA Mission X programme which is an official outreach programme promoting exercise and healthy lifestyle in children, using astronaut training as a motivator.  Mission X was a huge success with hundreds of children participating daily, winning "I trained like an astronaut" stickers and competing in daily leader boards of who could do the most and best exercise.

Northumbria University BSc Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences student Joe Bulmer (left) leading Mission X - Train Like an Astronaut classes

This left the rest of the team free to manage the FRED research and recruit adult participants too.  The format worked well and increased participation in the FRED research by nearly 10% over the previous year.  The research was able to determine the familiarisation time required for first time users of the FRED as well as determine if the handle bars should be used during FRED exercise.  These data formed part of Andrew Winnard's PhD thesis and have been written up for publication.  Making use of the partnership between Northumbria University and the Life Science Centre to run studies this way has yet again demonstrated its value in being able to complete data collection in large samples (140+), including a clinical group, in just four weeks and without needing to complete lengthy ethics systems.  One of the placement students, Arran Parmar, subsequently went on to win a highly competitive internship at ESA's Space Medicine Office.