Space Health


The MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative is pushing the boundaries of space exploration innovation across the Media Lab’s many healthcare-focused and healthcare-adjacent research thrusts. The program focuses on the protection, long-duration preservation, and predictive adaptation of life beyond the earthbound, integrated throughout the Space Exploration Initiative’s portfolio. This research platform builds towards a near future where space-faring humans can both survive and thrive wherever the future takes us—back and forth to the surface of Earth, to low Earth orbit, to the moon, Mars, and beyond. 

In addition to technology for the sake of deep space exploration, we note a dual opportunity for the technologies developed as part of this program to enhance and improve healthcare treatment regimens on Earth, in the long tradition of NASA spinoffs yielding benefit to wider populations. We aim to jumpstart a creative, interdisciplinary approach to space healthcare innovation, in the spirit of the Space Exploration Initiative’s cross-cutting technological development across multiple fields (from synthetic neurobiology to human-robotic interaction and AI).

Research Areas

Neural Oscillations. The Alzheimer's research aims to use non-invasive sensory-induced gamma entrainment to attenuate space-induced physiological impairments. On an upcoming parabolic flight, we will test the effect of microgravity on gamma entrainment in humans. Mouse models will be used to evaluate the microglial response to sensory-mediated gamma entrainment. Microglia are macrophage-like immune cells in the central nervous system that scavenge extracellular debris, prune synapses, and support neural function. 

Tardigrade Cryptobiosis. Explores the feasibility of reverse engineering Tardigrade species cryptobiosis capabilities (i.e., desiccation, radiation and temperature-swing resistance) into other organisms, to “flip the paradigm” of organism survival in space—make the organism inherently space-tolerant, rather than relying strictly on life support systems.

Space FoodHow can we best meet the nutritional, performance, and emotional needs of astronauts through food? Our space food research area aims to address the unique challenges associated with eating in space—from the microbiome scale to the “envirome” scale—including fermentation and probiotics,  improving waning or shifting appetite, and preservation of freshness and nutrient quality. This research area explicitly addresses earth-based markets as well, as the foods  and eating experiences developed for space can be re-used in many Earth contexts. 

Personal Robots in SpaceCan we enable social connectivity between astronauts and people on Earth through an embodied agent? While in zero gravity, the embodied social agent interacts with people on cognitive, creative, and social tasks with varying degrees of proactive behavior. We collect physiological, audio, and video data of the experience as individuals complete a series of tasks with the agent with the goal of designing agents that can enable us to be more socially connected.

Sensory SynchronyThe primary goal of this research project is to investigate vestibular system stimulation techniques to combat motion sickness and create more intuitive experiences when being in a non-natural gravity environments. A prototype built for multipole vestibular stimulation for simulating acceleration in roll and pitch axis will be tested on the upcoming zero gravity flight for minimizing the effects of alterations between micro and hyper gravity phases.

Physio FreefallThis project seeks to examine the effects of altered gravity on an individual’s physiology during parabolic flight. Specifically, we will collect flight participants’ heart rate, heart rate variability, breathing rate, skin temperature, and skin conductance measurements using wearable, wireless sensors in order to determine the response of these biosignals to zero/hyper/microgravity and feelings of nausea.

Mediated Atmospheres in SpaceDesigning the atmosphere and sensorial qualities of physical space can have a remarkable influence on human experience and behavior. This project envisions a workspace or space station that is capable of dynamically transforming to enhance occupants’ work experience and cognitive ability, via both subtle and overt customizations tailored to bio-signal inputs.

Testing and Product Development

Zero Gravity Flight: We charter an annual parabolic flight (20 zero-g parabolas, 25 researchers, 15 experiments), with a focus on prototypes uniquely designed for the affordances of microgravity. 

Research Collaboration with NASA Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH): We are actively developing a suite of health-focused prototypes that will mediate human interaction with interior space habitats to improve cognitive performance and overall wellness. 

 ISS Interior and External Deployment Tests: Coming in the next 12 months. 

Research Topics