The humble smartwatch is now helping astronauts in space 

High-tech sports watches are set to play a role in space-based health research

Garmin sports watches are helping scientists learn how being in space affects the human body, after they were chosen for use in a space mission. 

Polaris Dawn is the first of up to three human spaceflight missions in the Polaris programme, planned in order to carry out research and test new technologies. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch the mission later this year from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

Four Polaris Dawn astronauts with their Garmin Fenix 7 smartwatchesCredit: Garmin

The four-person crew (made up of two men and two women) will spend up to five days in orbit, hoping to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown, at 1400km (870 miles). They will also attempt the first ever commercial spacewalk.  

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) is supporting health and biomedical research during the mission.  

One aspect of this research involves the use of Garmin fenix 7 smart watches to continuously track each crew member’s vital signs during the mission. The watch will allow researchers to track a wide range of data, including heart rate, blood oxygen, sleep, stress, and breathing. It also tracks calories burned, and the intensity of the activity as the crew go about their tasks, potentially offering lots of information for researchers to use when the crew returns to Earth. 

Studies of the effects of space on the human body have been going on for more than 50 years, but there is still much more to find out. Muscle loss, bone problems, and harmful effects of radiation, including increased risk of cataracts, are some of the known effects of being in space. Only a minority of astronauts have been women, so much less is known about how women’s bodies react to being in space.  

Jimmy Wu, TRISH senior biomedical engineer, said: “The trove of biometric data provided by Garmin fenix smartwatches will allow us to better understand how the body adjusts to being in space.  

“Once collected, this physiological data will be added to TRISH’s EXPAND database, aiding current and future research to study and understand human health and performance for all future human space exploration missions.”  

The Polaris Dawn crew standing together in a doorway. their arms are all folded, and they are smiling at each other.Credit: Polaris Program
The Polaris Dawn crew: Mission Pilot Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Mission Commander Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Mission Specialist and Medical Officer Anna Menon, Mission Specialist Sarah Gillis.

If the idea of having the same sports watch as an astronaut appeals to you, the fenix 7 has a RRP of £599.99 for the standard edition, and £689.99 for the solar-powered version. It uses no less than three satellite systems for navigation – GPS, GLONASS and Galileo (put simply, you should find it hard to get lost). 

The use of these smartwatches is just one aspect of the Polaris Dawn project.  Other planned experiments include wearing a contact lens embedded with microelectronics, to monitor changes in the shape and pressure of the eye, and studying how the body processes common medicines while in orbit. 

See the discounted Garmin Fenix 7 Solar for £619.99 at Amazon
Or the even great-discounted 7X Solar for £669.94
Steven Shaw

Written by Steven Shaw he/him


Steven Shaw has been a freelance writer for a variety of outlets, most notably TechRadar. His degree in Medieval History prepared him less adequately for his career than you might expect, but the years spent working in technology focused retail were much more helpful.

Outside of work, Steven is passionate about health and fitness, and particularly enjoys high-intensity interval training, weight training, and increasingly, spending time recovering. Steven loves reading, films and a wide variety of sports. A particular highlight was watching Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar batting together in an exhibition match.

He wishes he could travel more. He can also tell you a lot about the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Carolingians. Most of his non-work time is spent with his young children, who are the living embodiment of high-intensity training.