The Apple Watch Is Going to Outer Space for This New Health Study

SpaceX will send four private citizens into orbit on a new three-day mission.
Inspiration4 Apple Watch in space Credit: Inspiration4 / John Kraus
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The Apple Watch has already played an important role in contributing to numerous health studies, and now it looks like it’s about to conquer the final frontier.

Elon Musk’s private space exploration firm SpaceX is planning to send four private citizens into orbit on a new three-day mission called Inspiration4, and among other things, the crew will be conducting health research to “help further human exploration of space.”

Inspiration4 is also noteworthy for being the first all-civilian human spaceflight mission to ever go into orbit, but the team is also expecting to partake in another first in the form of a new health research initiative that will hopefully “increase humanity’s knowledge on the impact of spaceflight on the human body” — and they’re going to be relying heavily on Apple’s technologies to do it.

SpaceX is working with the NASA-sponsored Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine. Researchers will track and collect biomedical data from the Inspiration4 crew members using the Apple Watch Series 6, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPad mini 4.

According to Baylor College’s Center for Space Medicine, the Apple Watch will specifically be used for a “neurocognitive performance” study where “researchers will correlate cognitive test results with health vitals collected from an Apple Watch and environmental data collected from [the] Dragon [capsule].”

NASA astronauts undergo rigorous training before going on space missions, but one of SpaceX’s goals is to take us to the point where everyday people can travel into space without the need for a full-fledged NASA training program. These Inspiration4 studies hope to “improve understanding of how the general population will behave and perform in space travel, which becomes more relevant as more spaceflight passengers explore our solar system.”

In speaking with SpaceExplored, TRISH senior biomedical engineer Jimmy Wu described it as “a pretty Apple-heavy set of projects,” but adding that it’s “really great because the product speaks for itself.”

According to SpaceExplored’s Zac Hall, crew members will each wear an Apple Watch Series 6 to collect “research-grade ECG activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen saturation, [and] cabin noise data.” The Dragon capsule will also capture additional data on things like light intensity, which of course can’t be measured by the Apple Watch.

The astronauts will also use an iPad mini 4 to perform a series of tests using a special “Cognition” app. Researchers will then correlate the vital and environmental stats gathered by the Apple Watch and Dragon capsule’s sensors with these cognitive test results to see how their performance matches their various physiological responses.

Additionally, crew members will also use an iPhone 12 Pro to acquire data and view images from an AI-guided organ scanning system called “Butterfly IQ+” which is an ultrasound tool designed to be used by non-medical experts. The goal here will be to see if the iPhone can be used by an average person to “self-acquire clinical-grade images without guidance from ground support.” The images will also provide a “timeline of biological changes before and during spaceflight” for further study.

Ultimately, researchers hope that all this data will help them to learn for the first time how average healthy people are affected by space travel, as opposed to professional NASA astronauts who are in prime physical condition that rivals that of most Olympic athletes.

The Inspiration4 mission is slated for launch on September 14 from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The crew will travel in a SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule used by NASA astronauts, and will orbit the globe for about three days before returning to earth.

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