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Research project: Muscle Tone in Space (Myotones Project)

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The Myotones Project is monitoring muscles of astronauts in space to examine the effects of six months in microgravity. Changes in muscle tone are being measured using a novel device, the MyotonPRO, and muscle size is measured using ultrasound imaging, across the three phases of space mission to the international space station (before, during, and after spaceflight).

This experiment is the first to monitor changes in basic biomechanical properties (tone, elasticity and stiffness) of the resting human myofascial system and changed in tissue thickness due to microgravity with noninvasive, portable technologies on board the International Space Station (ISS).

The Myotones project is led by Professor Dieter Blottner from the Charité University in Berlin, Germany, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). The Southampton team, led by Professor Maria Stokes, brings expertise in both technologies, with Dr Martin Warner overseeing technical aspects of the project and Paul Muckelt supported as Research Fellow by the UK Space Agency..

The MyotonPRO device applies brief mechanical impulses to the skin, causing oscillations of the underlying tissue, which are detected and computed by software within the device. This provides an objective, quick and easy way to determine the state of muscles and tendons.

Ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to view inside the body and is the same technology used to image unborn babies. This technology is used in the current study to assess the thickness of the muscle and tissues beneath the skin at the same sites tested using the MyotonPRO device.
Two preflight, four inflight (on ISS) and four postflight measurements are performed on astronauts at several sites on the body.

Before their mission, the astronauts are trained at the European Astronauts Center (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. They are taught how to use the equipment, so they can test each other in space. Data collection pre- and postflight is performed at the EAC in Cologne and at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, with support of ESA and NASA missions coordinators and specialists.

For monitoring the astronauts inflight, a member of the Southampton team travels to the CADMOS space station in Toulouse, France, where there is a direct link to the ISS.

Astronauts exercise about two hours a day on the ISS but adjusting their exercise programmes to target the muscles that most need it is difficult while in space, as it varies from person to person. Data on how an astronaut’s muscles are changing will help the physio and medical team tailor that individual’s training inflight.

This project will also have impact closer to home, in relation to lessons learned for remote guided ultrasound imaging by experts at specialist centers supporting clinicians at outreach hospitals and clinics around the world. Changes in astronauts’ muscle biomechanical properties and thickness due to microgravity could improve our understanding of the aging process in muscles, as well as degenerative neuromuscular diseases.

Funded by: European Space Agency, UK Space Agency / Science & Technologies Facilities Council


Myoton PRO device
Myoton PRO device
View from space
View from space
Astronaut schedule
Astronaut schedule
Space monitors
Space monitors

Associated research themes

Active Living Theme

Related research groups

Active Living and Rehabilitation

Conferences and events associated with this project:

P. Muckelt, D. Blottner, M. Hastermann, K., M. Warner, H.C. Gunga, M. Stokes. Monitoring changes in muscle size using ultrasound imaging throughout the ISS mission cycle: first case study. UK Space Conference 2019 ; 24-26 Sept, Cardiff

M. Hastermann, P. Muckelt, K. Albracht, B. Schoenrock, M. Salanova, M. Warner, H.C. Gunga, M. Stokes, D. Blottner. MYOTONES : Inflight muscle health status monitoring during long-duration space missions onboard the International Space Station: a single case study. 70th International Astronautical Congress 2019; 21–25 October 2019 Washington DC, USA

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