Skip to main content

Space Meets Bone – Dr. Kacena’s Journey



While I am currently an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the IU School of Medicine, many people are surprised to hear that my education (B.S., M.S., and Ph.D.) is all in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado (CU). I had a very unique opportunity as a student. I worked at BioServe Space Technologies developing spaceflight hardware for biologic applications. As an undergraduate and for my master’s degree, I studied bacterial growth in spaceflight and other gravitational environments.


During my training, my doctoral advisor, Dr. Marvin Luttges, unexpectedly died from a heart attack. Soon after this tragedy,  I met Dr. William Landis (then at Harvard Medical School) at the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology meeting. Dr. Landis (right in photo) invited me to work with him to finish up my doctoral studies by examining bone loss in spaceflight. Together with my new thesis advisor, Dr. Paul Todd, we created a new research program, and I moved to Boston to learn about bone.


During my graduate studies, my experiments flew on seven Space Shuttle missions and also on Space Station MIR. You can view the manuscripts we published on spaceflight and gravitational studies on the mission website at After earning my Ph.D., I continued studying bone and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine in Orthopaedics.


Today, I am still conducting bone research and had thought my days of studying spaceflight effects on bone were over. Fortunately, what I thought of as a once in a lifetime experience is actually now a twice in a lifetime opportunity, and I could not be more excited. Spaceflight experiments are what initially made me love science, and I look forward to sharing this unique opportunity with my students in hopes that they too will fall in love with science and research.


Photo caption: Dr. Kacena, center; her husband, Gregg Merrell – left; and Dr. Landis, right, celebrating Dr. Kacena’s thesis defense in 1999.


written by Melissa

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Carl Pinkham