Being in space probably won't hurt you, new study shows

Being in space probably won't hurt you, new study shows

The Twins Study gave us the first integrated molecular view into genetic changes, and demonstrated how a human body adapts and remains robust and resilient even after spending almost a year aboard the International Space Station. But most of these astronauts travel on spaceflight missions of six months or less, not the longer missions required to travel to Mars or elsewhere. While Scott Kelly underwent some physical changes during his time in space, "the vast majority" of those changes went back to normal within six months.

Identical twins Scott, right, and Mark Kelly were the test subjects for a NASA study on how long periods of spaceflight affect the human body, with Mark on Earth while Scott spent nearly a year in the International Space Station in 2015. Supported by 84 researchers at 12 locations across eight states, the data from this complex study was channeled into one inclusive study, providing the most comprehensive and integrated molecular view to date of how a human responds to the spaceflight environment.

"It's reassuring to know that when you come back things will largely be the same".

Nevertheless, the findings point to issues that will have to be resolved as NASA plans for trips beyond Earth orbit, to the moon, Mars and beyond.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly inside the cupola of the International Space Station, a special module that provides a 360-degree viewing of the Earth and the station. "Our study established protocols for collecting and transporting samples for future multi-omics studies on astronauts".

According to NASA, there were three major findings in the study that focused on telomeres, the immune system, and the variability in gene expression.

"The unique thing is that because they´re twins, essentially they have the same genetic code", said Dr. Andy Feinberg of Johns Hopkins University.

A year in space lead Scott Kelly to become more farsighted as his carotid artery and retina thickened, which is common during space flight.

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Mark did not have any such thickening.

But additional research could eventually help scientists predict the types of medical risks astronauts may face on long space journeys where people experience less gravity than on Earth, exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays, and other risks to health.

Weight loss, altered eye shape and elongated DNA structures are just a few of the side effects of spending a year in space. Technological hurdles are only one aspects of this goal, though - the space agency needs data on how time spent in space impacts the human body.

In one test, both Scott and Mark were administered a flu vaccination. Stanford was one of 26 institutions that collaborated with NASA to examine the twins at the molecular level, focusing on protein production, immune response, metabolism and the efficacy of vaccines in space.

Other co-investigators working with Rana included Tomas Vaisar and Andy Hoofnagle at the University of Washington; Immaculata De Vivo at Harvard School of Public Health; and Stuart Lee, Brandon Macias and Mike Stenger at the Johnson Space Center. "And these are the same genes that we see changing in cancer patients", said Piening. Telomeres typically shorten as a person ages. Lengthening telomeres is now being studied by scientists as a way to reverse aging and beat cancer.

Bailey's team evaluated Scott and Mark's telomere lengths before the flight and found that they were very similar. For instance, Kelly had a demanding public-appearance schedule once he ended his flight and "basically retired the moment he hit the ground, and so perhaps he just wasn't as motivated any longer", possibly accounting for the lower mental performance, Basner says to the Times. Remarkably, the Kelly twins were individuals of similar "nature (genetics) and nurture (environment)", and so the flawless space experiment was conceived - featuring "space twin and Earth twin" as the stars.

NASA has a rigorous training process to prepare astronauts for their missions, including a thoroughly planned lifestyle and work regime while in space, and an excellent rehabilitation and reconditioning program when they return to Earth.

"Not that it's so dramatic that he's come back much, much older or anything - but it could add up to being accelerated aging", Bailey said. Feinberg and Rizzardi traveled for a week on the famed "Vomit Comet," a plane that simulates weightlessness, to test their protocols for overcoming the challenges of collecting, purifying, and storing blood samples aboard the space station.

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