Humans in Space

Experts outline 2 ways to boost human health in space

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As the spaceflight industry advances, scientists are starting to consider the realities of long-duration spaceflight on the human body.

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A trip to and from Mars, for instance, would take roughly 2 years — the average stay in the International Space Station is just 7 months.

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Besides the threats of micrometeorite damage and radiation from cosmic rays to astronauts on long missions to Mars or the Moon, there are other health risks scientists must consider as well.

So how do you prepare humans for long-duration spaceflight?

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A pair of recent papers delve into these issues. The first covered potential issues with astronauts’ overall health due to a changing gut microbiome.

Life in microgravity can affect an astronaut’s appetite, leading to changes in the ecology of microbes living inside our digestive tracts. Imbalance in this microbiome population can lead to issues like inflammation and higher risk of infection.

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The study suggests updating astronaut diets to include microbe-promoting foods like yogurt, pickles, and miso.

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The other study looked at the loss of bone density and muscle mass many astronauts experience on the ISS, despite a strict exercise regiment.

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Two proteins — myostatin and activin — limit the growth of muscle and bone. Treatments designed to block these proteins may, in theory, help astronauts maintain muscle mass and bone density on long-duration space missions.

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Although both interventions still require more research, we are on the right path to preparing humans to travel far beyond Earth.

Read more space stories here.

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