Early Findings from NASA’s Twin Study Have Now Been Confirmed
NASA performed a study on twins where one twin was sent into space and the other remained down on Earth for one year. That study just hit another major benchmark now that the early findings from 2017 have been confirmed along with some new insights into possible health issues for future Mars travellers.
Asgardia, the first-ever space nation open to all, has the long-term goal of setting up habitable platforms in space. Thus, health issues are an important of meeting that goal.
Scott Kelly spent 340 days on the International Space Station from 2015 to 2016, along with Russian crewmate Mikhail Kornienko. This flight marked the longest single flight of any American, giving researchers a chance to examine how human health changes in almost a year.
While Scott was the test subject in space, on the International Space Station, his twin brother, Mark Kelly, who flew as an astronaut during the space shuttle program remained down on Earth. This allowed investigators to gather information from both twins.
As NASA officials said in a statement, the ideal nature versus nurture study was born.
Even by today’s standards a year in space is a long time. However, investigators are preparing for future flights to Mars, which would most likely take an astronaut almost three years. By being able to see how Scott’s body reacted it will provide more information on the long-term health effects of space that are needed before this long-haul journey can be made. To date, investigators know that bones and muscles weaken, fluids shift and in some cases, astronauts return with permanent eyesight changes. So now, countermeasures are being looked into.
Moreover, the Twin Study took it a step further by including surveying the brothers’ genomes and gathering data on Scott and Mark’s physical and psychological health. When it came to Scott, some of the changes to his body disappeared only a few hours or days after landing, however, some remained even after six months.
Here is an overview of some of the key new findings:
- Scott’s telomeres — or the ends of chromosomes that shorten as people get older — got a lot longer in space. This result was known last year, but investigators validated it and also found that most of the telomeres got shorter again within two days of Scott’s landing.
- Approximately 7 percent of Scott’s genes may have longer-term changes in expression after spaceflight, in areas like DNA repair, the immune system, how bones are formed, hypoxia (an oxygen deficiency in the tissues) and hypercapnia (excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream). The other 93 percent of his genes rapidly returned to normal.
- There was no significant cognitive performance decline for Scott in space after one year, compared with Mark or with usual astronauts who fly a six-month mission. Yet, researchers did see pronounced decreases in Scott’s cognitive speed and accuracy after he landed. This might have happened due to “re-exposure and adjustment to Earth’s gravity, and the busy schedule that came along with Scott’s return to Earth explained NASA officials.
- The researchers also observed that spaceflight is connected to nutrient shifts, oxygen deprivation stress and more inflammation. They collected the evidence after looking at large numbers of proteins (chains of amino acids), cytokines (substances secreted by cells in the immune system) and metabolites (substances related to metabolism) in Scott’s body.
All of these results are now being integrated and summarized by the research teams; investigators are also evaluating the possible impact that these findings will have on future space travel beyond low Earth orbit, stated NASA officials.
More details will be released in an integrated summary paper that will be published later in 2018. NASA added that a series of smaller papers grouped by related research areas will also be released at a later date.
If you’re interested in ensuring the peaceful use of space, protecting the Earth from space hazards, creating a demilitarized and free scientific base of knowledge in space, or even living in space one day then join Asgardia now and help us meet our goals.
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