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Space Travel and Aging in Space. What happens?

Space Travel and Aging in Space. What happens?

5 minute read

Space Travel is Closer Than We Think

It’s 2350 and you’ve gone through the first gate at an interstellar spaceport. Before you go, you’ll need to pop into your regulating suit so that radiation doesn’t destroy your DNA. On the holograms of ads heading into the ship, you see new anti-gamma ray moisturizers as there might be larger than usual solar flares this summer.

It seems like we might be adding another aging factor in the decades to come. Not only do we need precautions from photoaging from UV exposure, stress-related aging, and chronological aging, but also, now space aging? With Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos recently being the first to take commercial flights into space, the space race for a holiday on Mars might not sound too crazy. 

Expect the Unexpected, in Space

Space contains a vast amount of radiation that a human would not want to be exposed to; like a solar flare. Sure, it might settle for a romantic night on a hypothetical space station closer to the sun, but if that station doesn’t generate a magnetic field strong enough to bend solar flares, per se (like earth does), you’ve got energized particles whizzing through your body. This can cause a low blood count, radiation sickness, cataracts, cancer, and..yes, even death - not a romantic evening anymore.

In space, the body deteriorates about 10x faster than aging naturally back down on earth and so scientists send study subjects into space to test accelerated health effects. The body goes through many changes which are still being studied, but what we do know is that it reboots the way cells respond in the body and when they come back down to earth, the body mostly returns back to a normal, earthly state. 

So, What Happens to the Body in Space?

From what we know, the microgravity atmosphere doesn’t put a strain on the heart, bones, and muscles like on earth, so they don’t need to work as hard. In response, the body weakens from disuse. This is why astronauts must have a regular workout schedule.

Tissues full of fluid may change shape. In microgravity, liquid flows differently and so it can morph the shape of organs like our brain.

Background radiation is a killer. As explained above, the radiation outside of the Earth’s atmosphere causes DNA damage and increases the risk of cancer or even death. 

Chromosomal change. A study made in 2019 by Science sent a twin up into space for 340 days to compare the molecular and physiological traits that may be affected by space-time. 

(Above image: Left and middle) Genetically identical twin subjects (ground and flight) were characterized across 10 generalized biomedical modalities before (preflight), during (inflight), and after the flight (postflight) for a total of 25 months (circles indicate time points at which data were collected). (Right) Data were integrated to guide biomedical metrics across various “-omes” for future missions (concentric circles indicate, from inner to outer, cytokines, proteome, transcriptome, and methylome).

One trait was the elongation of telomeres which is usually attributed to healthy lifestyle factors related to metabolic and nutritional status, physical activity, and weight loss. The long-term effects of elongated telomeres in space are unknown and the basis for many experiments to come. Given that many of the molecular changes that are associated with spaceflight returned to near preflight levels, they serve as an important biomarker or guide for countermeasures during future spaceflight missions.

I highly recommend reading the study!

Cognitive decline. It was clearly noted that prolonged missions to space negatively affected cognitive performance. This could have serious consequences when heading to Mars and is the basis of further experiments such as postflight operational procedures of future missions.

Thinning skin. A study made on mice back in 2015 published in noj Microgravity concluded that 3 months on the International Space Station resulted in skin atrophy. This means that there was a significant reduction in dermal thickness and moisture in mice. This was due to newly synthesized, defective collagen which degrades faster than usual. Human clinical studies on the skin are still yet to be made in future space missions over longer periods of time.

The skin has not yet received much interest in space research although it has multiple functions including tactile sense, protection against pathogens, thermal regulation, and protection from environmental stresses such as radiation. The skin also provides a very important barrier against body fluids which might be the source of health problems, including carcinogenesis, during long-term space travel.

Anti-Gamma Ray Sunflare Moisturizer Anyone? Maybe.

A new application in skincare for space travel could be a thing soon! From thinning skin due to defective collagen, moisture loss, and radiation damage, new topical formulas or skin supplements to activate thicker skin, boost hydration, or radiation-blocking minerals are on the horizon (event horizon). You can be assured that GOA will be first in line to develop and research tools to counteract our spaceflight woes on our upcoming Mars holiday! 

In the meantime, settle for some earthly delights to reduce the effects of age below!

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