Education Technology

STEM Behind Life in Space

Heart to Heart

Students step into the role of NASA flight surgeons with this innovative TI-Nspire™ activity that helps them understand the science of how life in the microgravity of space affects the human heart.

Developed by the space agency and Texas Instruments (TI) for middle grades life science and high school biology, Heart to Heart looks back to the earliest days of America’s space program; at NASA’s ongoing Human Research Program aboard the International Space Station; and forward to a manned Mars mission.

Pump up the excitement in your classroom

Heart to Heart puts a uniquely relevant spin on math and science to get students excited about 21st-century careers by exploring:

  • » What causes heart rates to change
  • » How life in space affects human physiology
  • » How astronauts keep their hearts healthy while in space

The activity provides teacher notes with questions to lead classroom discussion and gauge student understanding. And its interactive simulations deliver immediate feedback so students can self-assess their work.

The heart of space exploration

When American astronaut Scott Kelly completed his One-Year Mission aboard the space station and returned to Earth, NASA medical professionals were waiting to evaluate the impact his long stay in space had on his heart.

During Scott’s stay in space — about twice as long as the typical mission — his twin, astronaut Mark Kelly, stayed on Earth as the control for NASA’s Twins Study.

In addition to providing insights into the cardiovascular impact of Scott’s lengthy stay in space, the study will yield data on other physiological systems that the NASA scientists and flight surgeons will use to prepare astronauts for a mission to Mars.

A career caring for the explorers who 'do amazing things'

“It’s my dream job,” Dr. Natacha Chough, M.D., MPH, says of her position as a NASA flight surgeon who “helps keep astronauts healthy so they can explore space for all of us on Earth.”

Her career in space medicine began with a summer internship at the Ames Research Center’s Astrobiology Academy in California.

After finishing her college studies in biology and chemistry, Dr. Chough — who, along with input from other flight surgeons and NASA doctors, helped TI develop Heart to Heart — joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Kennedy Space Center, where she supported the Mars Exploration Spirit and Opportunity rover missions.

She earned her medical degree from the University of Michigan, then trained in Emergency Medicine at Stanford University and Aerospace Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch before becoming a flight surgeon at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

NASA flight surgeons care for astronauts before, during and after missions. They follow crews through health and medical training, drill them on emergency medical procedures for life aboard the International Space Station, monitor their health while in space from Mission Control and help them re-adjust to gravity upon their return to Earth.

“After landing, astronauts can have physical effects from spaceflight such as weaker muscles or poor balance. The flight surgeon and astronaut trainers help the astronauts rehabilitate when they return to Earth,” she explains.

With a career as diverse as hers, what is most fulfilling? “It’s the special relationship and trust that comes with getting to know my patients well and being able to help them stay healthy so they can do amazing things,” she says.