A study being conducted by NASA has provided some new insights into the possible health issues of long term space flight. NASA’s Twins Study has focused on astronaut twins Scott and Mark Kelly. Scott Kelly recently spent nearly a year in space on the International Space Station in 2015 to 2016 while his twin Mark remained earthbound. Mark flew as an astronaut during the space shuttle program.
Scott’s mission provided NASA with an opportunity to see how human health changes while in space for a significant amount of time. During the mission, researchers collected data from both Scott and Mark for comparison. The researchers reviewed their physical and psychological health along with surveying the brothers’ genomes.
The milestone flight was the longest single flight of any American. After one year, Scott had no significant cognitive performance decline, but the researchers did note oxygen deprivation stress and increased inflammation. One of the most surprising results of the Twin Study was that about 7 percent of Scott’s genes experienced long-term changes after spaceflight. The other 93 percent of his genes quickly returned to normal.
The data could prove invaluable to researchers preparing for future flights to Mars. More information on the long-term health effects of space is needed before the journey can be made. The journey would likely take about three years from takeoff to landing.
The effects of short visits to space have been well documented. Some of the changes to the body disappear in hours or days after landing, while some remain for much longer. The most consistent side effects are a weakening of the bones and muscles along with a shift in bodily fluids. In some cases, astronauts have returned with permanent eyesight changes.
More details of the Twin Study will be released in an integrated summary paper to be published later this year. NASA is also planning to release “a series of smaller papers grouped by related research areas” at a later time, according to a statement from the agency.