NASA releases results of its twin astronaut experiment, and there are worrying

Surprising effects of being in space on the human body

Surprising effects of being in space on the human body

US astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, who also happened to be identical twins, participated in a twin study that has provided truly unique results.

"Changes described in this study highlight pathways and mechanisms that may be vulnerable to spaceflight and may require safeguards for longer space missions; thus, they serve as a guide for targeted countermeasures or monitoring during future missions" noted the authors. However, a small percentage of his genes related to the immune system and DNA fix remained altered, indicating potential permanent damage. His body acted as if it were under attack.

Astronaut Scott Kelly experienced many changes during his 340-day stay at the International Space Station (ISS), ranging from shifts in genes and gut microbes to a thickening of his carotid artery, NASA researchers said as they presented the final results of a study that involved the astronaut and his identical twin, Mark Kelly. But the report shows anew that the human body is adapted for life on the surface of Earth and goes haywire in zero gravity.

One of the most dramatic findings concerned epigenetics - how genes are turned on or off to produce proteins. The data included cognitive measurements, physiological data and 27 months of samples from both Scott and his twin Earth-bound brother Mark, including blood, plasma, urine, and stool. NASA called the findings "interesting, surprising and reassuring", detailing the changes in Kelly's body caused by his almost year-long time on the International Space Station.

His telomeres - structures that protect the ends of chromosomes, much like the plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces, and which erode over time as part of the natural aging process - lengthened in space.

However, many rapidly decreased in length after the flight, and he now has more short telomeres than long ones. She expected the stresses of space to shorten telomeres quicker.

The findings showed that the telomeres in Scott's white blood cells, which are biomarkers of ageing at the end of chromosomes, were unexpectedly longer in space then shorter after his return to Earth with average telomere length returning to normal six months later.

The researchers who carried out the "NASA Twins Study" found that most of the changes to Mr. Scott's body during his time in space returned to normal within months of his return to the earth - although not all of them. In his memoir, "Endurance", he wrote about suffering from skin rashes, burning sensations and horribly swollen legs as well as nausea in the days after he returned. I can't say I felt a change in my immune system, but I definitely felt not well.

However, these effects wore off over the duration of his time on the space station and his test scores actually got worse from his pre-flight tests by the time he left space.

"We developed the methods for doing these types of human genomic studies, and we should be doing more research to draw conclusions about what happens to humans in space", Feinberg said in a statement.

"However, with only two people in the study, we're limited in the conclusions we can draw about the effect of space travel on the genome". "If you see a difference between these two people, how do you know if what you're looking at is because of the twin on the ground or the twin in space?"

Moreover, Scott Kelly remained in low Earth orbit under the protective shield of the Earth's magnetic field. Interplanetary spaceflight, or journeys to the moon, will expose astronauts to much higher levels of radiation. This data would come in handy when the astronauts will visit Mars and other planets for long periods. "The radiation exposure will certainly be a big concern as they get outside of the protection of the Earth".

Mark Kelly is six minutes older than his brother. Both are now retired as NASA astronauts, and Mark is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona.

"I look younger than he does", Scott said. And hopefully, I will never learn that those are a problem.

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