Going to space is one of humankind’s greatest scientific achievements. The dream of leaving Earth in a spaceship and exploring outer space became a reality in the 20th century. Before then, it was, and continues to be, the subject of endless science fiction stories, television shows and films. But a new research development sounds more like something out of a horror movie.
Beyond the astronomical cost of research, development and training, what is the true price of going to outer space? NASA recently reported some significant preliminary results from its Twins Study, and they’re kind of crazy. The study examined what spending a year in space did to astronaut Scott Kelly’s genes. Using extensive comparisons with his identical twin brother Mark Kelly’s DNA, they determined that Scott changed quite significantly. 7% to be exact, and now the twins are no longer genetically the same. What?
Scientists examined several biological pathways and functions in their attempt to understand the transformation. They tracked changes in his metabolites, which are necessary for maintaining life, his cytokines and his proteins, which are both integral parts of cells and their functions. Scott returned two years ago and has since retired, but this study has been happening since before he left for his stay on the International Space Station. The research revealed that spaceflight is associated with increased inflammation, oxygen-deprivation stress and dramatic nutrient shifts that affect gene expression.
The Twin Study, which has involved other astronauts and uses ten groups of researchers, will continue and more information will be made public. The ultimate goal is a planned three year mission to Mars. Hopefully the fundamental altering of an astronaut’s DNA is as scary as it gets, but only time will tell. Check out the video below to see Scott Kelly talk about his experience...