Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course introduces students to a quantitative approach to studying the problems of physiological adaptation in altered environments, especially microgravity and partial gravity environments. The course curriculum starts with an Introduction and Selected Topics, which provides background information on the physiological problems associated with human space flight, as well as reviewing terminology and key engineering concepts. Then curriculum modules on Bone Mechanics, Muscle Mechanics, Musculoskeletal Dynamics and Control, and the Cardiovascular System are presented. These modules start out with qualitative and biological information regarding the system and its adaptation, and progresses to a quantitative endpoint in which engineering methods are used to analyze specific problems and countermeasures. Additional course curriculum focuses on interdisciplinary topics, suggestions include extravehicular activity and life support. The final module consists of student term project work.

Learning Objectives

  1. To apply engineering methods to the study of astronaut adaptation to reduced gravity environments.
  2. To use analytical techniques, such as structural idealizations, control theory, electrical circuit, and mechanical system analogs to model astronaut performance.
  3. To enable quantitative assessment of the effectiveness of countermeasures.
  4. To consider the socio-political implications for advanced technological R&D (e.g., space policy, health policy, international collaboration).
  5. To teach, perform outreach, and demonstrate mastery of a chosen engineering concept.

Measurable Outcomes and Assessment

Students graduating from 16.423J/HST.515J will be able to:

  1. Explain the short-term and long-term physiological consequences of space flight.
  2. Use analytical techniques such as structural idealizations, control theory, electrical circuit and mechanical system analogs to model astronaut performance.
  3. Calculate the stress and strain state in a human bone such as the proximal femur.
  4. Use a mechanical model including springs, dashpots and concentrated masses to simulate muscle groups.
  5. Derive and the equations of motion for a multibody dynamic system and understand applications of the theory.
  6. Select control laws and evaluate control parameters applied to space biomedical engineering.
  7. Use a resistance-capacitance model to evaluate changes in the cardiovascular system.
  8. Formulate multidisciplinary engineering-based models for physiological systems and identify the assumptions and limitations.
  9. Communicate a scientific or technological research problem to policy/decision makers.
  10. Teach younger students engineering concepts.