Space is an unfavorable environment for humans. We already know from research by astronauts, particularly NASA’s twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly (pictured above), that being outside the Earth affects blood flow to the brain, changes the gut microbiome, increases inflammation, and causes blurred vision, brittle bones, and muscle wasting.
Studies on mice that simulate space flight have shown that space travel leads to aging of the immune system and brain damage.
Now, thanks to a collective effort, scientists have published nearly 30 articles exploring the health risks associated with space travel. This list of articles is the largest set of data on space biology ever created and includes extensive analysis of observations of flies, worms, mice, and, of course, astronauts.
Some results confirm what we already knew about space-related health problems, while other studies provide new data, Refine previous results, or find ways to improve future experiments.
It is noted that overloads represent the danger to health during takeoff and dangerous space radiation and microgravity. For example, when traveling to Mars, astronauts will go far beyond Earth’s protective magnetosphere and be exposed to cosmic radiation for a significant time.
For astronauts hovering in low gravity aboard the International space station, any person’s longest stay is currently 437 days. Clearly, we still have a long way to go to assess the health risks associated with deep space travel truly, and scientists need to work with the data we already have.
Many of the studies published in this collection have combined or re-analyzed data from previous experiments available to researchers through portals such as the NASA GeneLab platform.
For example, one study analyzed data from about 60 astronauts and hundreds of samples from GeneLab to find a universal mechanism linking widespread changes in various genes, cells, tissues, body systems, organs, and muscles.
Overall, the study showed “systemic shifts” in mitochondria’s function, the components of cells that convert oxygen and nutrients into energy. The authors write that this may explain the abnormalities observed in the astronauts ‘ immune system and circadian rhythms.
Another study compared data from the Kelly twins with data from 11 other astronauts who spent about six months on the ISS. The researchers found that telomeres — the end sections of chromosomes that usually break down with age-lengthened during spaceflight in some astronauts, but in General, the group had shorter telomeres after returning than before the flight.
One study also came to interesting conclusions. A spike in inflammatory molecules in the blood of returning astronaut Scott Kelly may have been a sign of muscle regeneration rather than an immune response.
Obviously, this research is limited to a minimal number of astronauts and animals that we can send into space, namely flies and worms. For example, a study of roundworms on the ISS found small changes in about 1,000 genes, especially those related to nerve cell function. In contrast, this time with flies, another study showed that prolonged exposure to microgravity reduces their heart strength.
Overall, this collection of documents-the work of about 200 researchers from NASA and other government agencies, universities, and aerospace industry groups — represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the health risks of being in space.