When astronauts travel into space, their heart muscles don't have to work as hard to circulate blood because of the lack of gravity. Past research has shown that half of astronauts on missions lasting two weeks or less and nearly all of those who spend four to six months in space suffer from hypotension, or abnormally low blood pressure.
To improve astronaut safety, Stanford researchers have developed a simple device that provides high-fidelity measurements of astronauts' cardiovascular performance. As reported in a Stanford Report story, the project involved re-engineering a digital bathroom scale so that it is capable of determining cardiac output even in microgravity. Bjorn Carey writes:
After more than a dozen publications on the technology and its performance in human tests, the researchers found that the ballistocardiograph measured by their modified scale could measure cardiovascular activity in equal or better resolution than other clinical mechanical monitoring devices.
In a single 10-second measurement, the scale can glean enough data from a patient to assess his or her cardiovascular risks. [Richard Wiard, a bioengineering doctoral candidate] said that the scale does this with greater accuracy than the standard assessment used today, and also provides a clearer picture of a patient's (or space-faring astronaut's) near-term risk.
The above video shows footage from researchers' ride on what astronauts have affectionately dubbed the "vomit comet," a fixed-wing airplane that dips and climbs through the air to simulate the feeling of weightlessness.
Previously: Students design special stethoscope for use in space, noisy places, Space: A new frontier for doctors and patients and Fruit flies in space! Researchers hope to learn more about the heart through space-station experiment