Palmer Station, Antarctica: A ground-based spaceflight analog suitable for validation of biomedical countermeasures for deep space missions.

Palmer Station, Antarctica: A ground-based spaceflight analog suitable for validation of biomedical countermeasures for deep space missions.

Publication date: Feb 01, 2024

Astronauts are known to exhibit a variety of immunological alterations during spaceflight including changes in leukocyte distribution and plasma cytokine concentrations, a reduction in T-cell function, and subclinical reactivation of latent herpesviruses. These alterations are most likely due to mission-associated stressors including circadian misalignment, microgravity, isolation, altered nutrition, and increased exposure to cosmic radiation. Some of these stressors may also occur in terrestrial situations. This study sought to determine if crewmembers performing winterover deployment at Palmer Station, Antarctica, displayed similar immune alterations. The larger goal was to validate a ground analog suitable for the evaluation of countermeasures designed to protect astronauts during future deep space missions. For this pilot study, plasma, saliva, hair, and health surveys were collected from Palmer Station, Antarctica, winterover participants at baseline, and at five winterover timepoints. Twenty-six subjects consented to participate over the course of two seasons. Initial sample processing was performed at Palmer, and eventually stabilized samples were returned to the Johnson Space Center for analysis. A white blood cell differential was performed (real time) using a fingerstick blood sample to determine alterations in basic leukocyte subsets throughout the winterover. Plasma and saliva samples were analyzed for 30 and 13 cytokines, respectively. Saliva was analyzed for cortisol concentration and three latent herpesviruses (DNA by qPCR), EBV, HSV1, and VZV. Voluntary surveys related to general health and adverse clinical events were distributed to participants. It is noteworthy that due to logistical constraints caused by COVID-19, the baseline samples for each season were collected in Punta Arenas, Chile, after long international travel and during isolation. Therefore, the Palmer pre-mission samples may not reflect a true normal ‘baseline’. Minimal alterations were observed in leukocyte distribution during winterover. The mean percentage of monocyte concentration elevated at one timepoint. Plasma G-CSF, IL1RA, MCP-1, MIP-1β, TNFα, and VEGF were decreased during at least one winterover timepoint, whereas RANTES was significantly increased. No statistically significant changes were observed in mean saliva cytokine concentrations. Salivary cortisol was substantially elevated throughout the entire winterover compared to baseline. Compared to shedding levels observed in healthy controls (23%), the percentage of participants who shed EBV was higher throughout all winterover timepoints (52-60%). Five subjects shed HSV1 during at least one timepoint throughout the season compared to no subjects shedding during pre-deployment. Finally, VZV reactivation, common in astronauts but exceptionally rare in ground-based stress analogs, was observed in one subject during pre-deployment and a different subject at WO2 and WO3. These pilot data, somewhat influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, do suggest that participants at Palmer Station undergo immunological alterations similar to, but likely in reduced magnitude, as those observed in astronauts. We suggest that winterover at Palmer Station may be a suitable test analog for spaceflight biomedical countermeasures designed to mitigate clinical risks for deep space missions.

Concepts Keywords
Antarctica Antarctica
Herpesviruses Immunity
Nutrition Microgravity
Spaceflight Space


Type Source Name
disease IDO cell
disease IDO blood
disease VO time
drug DRUGBANK Hydrocortisone
disease MESH COVID-19
drug DRUGBANK Filgrastim

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