Space Travel Impacts Astronaut Health but Shows No Major Barriers

Space Travel Impacts Astronaut Health but Shows No Major Barriers

The Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA) project, led by Eliah Overbey and colleagues from the University of Austin, Texas, is addressing medical and ethical questions about human spaceflight health by gathering data from crewed commercial missions like Axiom, Polaris Dawn, and SpaceX’s Inspiration4. Unlike professional astronauts, private space tourists do not undergo rigorous health screenings, raising concerns about medical, legal, and ethical implications. Data indicates that short-term space missions can have genetic effects similar to those of longer-term missions, highlighting the importance of SOMA as a central hub for both commercial and government-led mission data.

A comprehensive "space-omics" biobank has been established, containing thousands of blood and tissue samples from various space missions, including the all-civilian SpaceX Inspiration4 flight. This biobank aims to help researchers understand the health impacts of space flight by analyzing biomarkers such as gene activity, immune system functioning, and DNA damage. Despite the observed changes, most health metrics returned to normal within a few months after returning to Earth, suggesting that civilian space travel may pose higher health risks than professional astronaut missions.

Research led by Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell Medicine has revealed that women may be more resilient to the stresses of spaceflight than men, recovering more quickly post-mission. This preliminary finding, based on data from 64 astronauts, indicates that gene activity disruption was greater and more prolonged in men. The study's insights could influence astronaut recovery programs and crew selection for future missions. Additionally, Mason's research has highlighted that long-duration spaceflight can negatively affect bones, muscles, and the immune system, although it does not preclude human expansion into space, including potential missions to Mars.

Further studies on the 2021 SpaceX Inspiration4 mission have shown significant impacts on the brain, heart, muscles, kidneys, and skin of the civilian astronauts. Despite stress and signs of aging observed in space, over 95% of biomarkers returned to preflight levels within months. Some abnormalities, such as mitochondrial changes, persisted. These findings suggest that while short-duration spaceflights do not pose significant health risks, the increased interest in space travel necessitates a deeper understanding of the long-term health implications for astronauts.


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