Human space colonies may be further away than we think, unfortunately. Scientists have long been researching the health effects of space travel on humans, and new discoveries indicate the health effects can be detrimental.
As explained by ScienceAlert, we’ve known that space travel is dangerous for a long time – after all, we’ve been doing it for over 50 years now. But, if our plan is to colonize Mars in the future, it’s important we understand just what is at stake.
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According to discoveries made as part of NASA’s Twin Study, extended time in space can affect blood flow to the brain, alter the ratio of bacteria in your gut microbiome, and cause temporary visual impairments, among other effects, due to the microgravity found outside Earth.
The issues begin during liftoff when astronauts are subjected to G forces almost three times what we experience on Earth. After exiting our atmosphere, space radiation becomes an issue and something that scientists are still looking to understand.
“Going forward, our goal is to get a better idea of underlying mechanisms, of what’s going on during long-duration space flight in the human body, and how it varies between people,” said Susan Bailey, a biologist from Colorado State University. “Not everybody responds the same way.”
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A one-way trip to Mars can take roughly seven months, meaning a round trip leads to a minimum of well over a year in space – not counting any research time on the planet itself. While this may not seem like a long time, relatively speaking, it is just shy of the record for the longest duration in space by a single person. Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov spent 438 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station in 2016.
This is just a singular case, however. In order to truly test the long-term health effects of space travel, we’ll inevitably need a larger sample size. Currently, much of the data is pooled as part of NASA’s GeneLab Project. This is a more cost-effective way for scientists to test samples and compare data.
The results of one such test indicated a collective change in the subjects’ mitochondria—tiny organelles within our cells that help to convert food into usable energy. “What we found over and over was that something is happening with the mitochondria regulation that throws everything out of whack,” said Afshin Beheshti, a bioinformatician at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
While the idea of living in space or on another planet is certainly appealing, we’ve clearly got a lot more to understand first. For more space news, read about NASA’s discovery of water on the moon as well as possible signs of life on Venus.