Staying in space can harm the human body

When 17 people all orbiting the Earth at the same time on May 30, 2023, set a record. As NASA and other federal space agencies plan more human missions and commercial companies launch people into space, the possibilities for human spaceflight are expanding rapidly.

However, traveling into space involves risks for the human body. NASA wants to send a manned aircraft there Mission to Mars In the 2030s, scientists will need to find solutions to these threats sooner rather than later.

As a kinesiologist working with astronauts, I’ve spent years doing this investigate the effects Space that the body and brain can have. I’m also involved in a NASA project that aims to do this reduce the health risks that participants on a future mission to Mars might face.

Space radiation

The earth has a protective shield called a magnetospherei.e. the area of ​​space around a planet controlled by its magnetic field. This shield filters out cosmic rays. However, astronauts who travel further than the International Space Station will be constantly exposed to this radiation – this corresponds to a radiation duration of between 10 and 15 years 150 and 6,000 chest x-rays.

This radiation can harm it Nervous and cardiovascular systems including Heart and arteries, which leads to cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, it can make the blood-brain barrier permeable. This can expose the brain to chemicals and proteins that are harmful to the brain – compounds that are safe in the blood but toxic to the brain.

The blood-brain barrier prevents compounds from flowing out of your brain through your circulatory system.

NASA is developing technology that can protect travelers on a Mars mission from radiation by incorporating distracting materials like Kevlar and polyethylene Spacecraft and spacesuits. Certain diets and supplements like Enterade can also minimize the effects of radiation. Such supplements, which are also used in cancer patients on Earth during radiation therapy, can alleviate gastrointestinal side effects of radiation exposure.

Gravity changes

Astronauts need to train in space to minimize the muscle loss they suffer after a long mission. Missions that reach all the way to Mars must ensure this Astronauts have nutritional supplements like for example bisphosphonate, which is used to prevent bone loss in osteoporosis. These supplements should keep your muscles and bones in good condition even over long periods of time Effects of Earth’s Gravity.

Microgravity also affects the nervous and circulatory systems. On Earth, your heart pumps blood upward, and special valves in your circulatory system prevent body fluids from pooling at your feet. In the absence of gravity, Fluids shift Towards the head.

My work and that of others have shown that this leads to an expansion of the fluid-filled spaces in the center of the brain. Extra fluid in the skull and no gravity “holding down” the brain causes this The brain sits higher in the skullThe top of the brain is pressed against the inside of the skull.

A man wearing a white headset and a suit with many cables sticking out of it and connected to a laptop via a plastic plate.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, pictured here, wears the Chibis Lower Body Negative Pressure Suit, which can help counteract the negative effects of fluid shifts in the body caused by gravity. NASA

These fluid shifts can contribute to this Space-associated neuro-ocular syndromea condition that many astronauts suffer from and which affects their health Structure and function of the eyes. The back of the eye may become flattened and the nerves that carry visual information from the eye to the brain swell and bend. Astronauts can still see, although vision function may worsen for some. Although it has not yet been well studied, Case studies suggest this This condition may persist for several years after returning to Earth.

Scientists may be able to shift the fluids back into the lower body with help special “pants”.“that draw fluids back toward the lower body like a vacuum. These pants could be used to redistribute the body’s fluids in a way more similar to what happens on Earth.

Mental health and isolation

While space travel can cause harm to the body, the isolating nature of space travel can also cause this profound effects on the mind.

Imagine having to live and work with the same small group of people without being able to see your family or friends for months. To learn to deal with extreme environments and maintain communication and leadership dynamics, astronauts first undergo team training on Earth.

They spend weeks in both NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations At the Aquarius Research Station, found underwater off the Florida Keys or mapping and exploring caves with the European Space Agency CAVES program. These programs help astronauts build camaraderie with their teammates and learn how to cope with stress and loneliness in hostile, remote environments.

Researchers are studying how best to monitor and support them Behavioral Psychological Health under these extreme and isolating conditions.

While space travel is associated with stress and the potential for loneliness, astronauts describe experiencing one Overview effect: a feeling of awe and connection with all of humanity. This often happens when viewing Earth from the International Space Station.

The earth, half obscured in shadow, hanging in the darkness from the moon.

Earthrise, a famous image taken during an Apollo mission, shows Earth from space. When looking at Earth from a distance, many astronauts report feeling an awe-inspiring “overview effect.” NASA

Learning how to support human health and physiology in space also has numerous benefits Benefits for life on earth. For example, products that protect astronauts from space radiation and counteract its harmful effects on our bodies can also treat cancer patients receiving radiation treatments.

Understanding how we can protect our bones and muscles in microgravity could improve the way doctors treat the frailty that often comes with age. And space exploration has led to many technological achievements Water purification And Satellite systems.

Researchers like me who study ways to maintain the health of astronauts believe our work will benefit people both in space and here at home.

Tom Vazquez

Tom Vazquez is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Tom Vazquez joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Tom Vazquez by emailing

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