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Comprehensive Study Unveils Health Impacts of Space Travel, Offers Hope for Future Space Tourism and Mars Missions

June 10, 2024 – Space travel’s impact on human health has long been a topic of concern for astronauts and now, increasingly, for a burgeoning space tourism industry. New findings from the most comprehensive study yet on the health effects of space travel were published on Tuesday, using data from the four civilian participants of the 2021 Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian orbital flight.

Researchers from over 100 institutions worldwide analyzed this new data, alongside data from 64 other astronauts, to understand how space affects human bodies. They discovered that while space travel induces significant physiological changes, most health indicators return to normal within three months of returning to Earth.

Health Changes in Space

The study, published in Nature journals, detailed numerous physiological changes that occur during space travel. The researchers found alterations in blood, heart, skin, proteins, kidneys, genes, mitochondria, telomeres, cytokines, and other health markers. Despite these changes, around 95% of these health markers returned to their pre-flight state within three months after the space mission.

“The big take-home message is that people mostly make a rapid recovery after space flight,” said Christopher Mason, one of the study’s main authors from Weill Cornell Medicine. Mason expressed optimism that these findings could aid in developing drugs or measures to protect future space travelers.

Telomere Lengthening and Implications for Aging

One particularly intriguing discovery was the dramatic lengthening of telomeres – protective caps on the ends of chromosomes – during the space flight. These telomeres returned to near-original lengths within months of returning to Earth. Since telomere length is associated with aging, this finding could have broader implications for anti-aging research. Susan Bailey of Colorado State University speculated that this could potentially lead to anti-aging products, like “telomerase-infused face cream.”

Mason highlighted that, based on current data, there is no reason humans shouldn’t be able to safely undertake a mission to Mars and return. However, he noted that multiple trips might be unwise due to cumulative radiation exposure.

A related study involving mice exposed to space-like radiation levels found they suffered permanent kidney damage. Keith Siew of the London Tubular Centre, the lead author of this study, warned that without new protective measures, astronauts might face significant health challenges on long-duration missions.

Positive Outlook for Space Tourism

Despite the challenges, Mason emphasized the positive outcomes of the research. “It bodes well for people who think: maybe I’ll go to space in six months,” he said. While the data isn’t yet definitive, preliminary findings suggest that female astronauts may be more resilient to spaceflight stress, potentially due to physiological adaptations related to childbirth.

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