NASA released preliminary results of the Twin Study – a part of the NASA Human Research Program – which investigate how the body is affected by extended time in space. The experiment involved identical twin brothers – Mark, a retired NASA astronaut who remained on Earth, and Scott who spent 340 days onboard the International Space Stations.
Astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth last March. He was the first American to spent nearly a year in space continuously. To understand how long-term spaceflight affects the human body, his identical twin brother stayed on Earth, as the ground-based control subject. The team of researchers and scientists were sharing numerous biological samples from each twin before, during and after the One Year Mission. The mission was a perfect opportunity for “nature versus nurture study”, as NASA says.
The Twin study includes several categories which are about to be investigated: Human psychology, Behavioral Health, Microbiology/Microbiome, Molecular/Omics, Immunome Studies, Genome Sequencing on the DNA and RNA, Telomeres and Telomerase, Immunome StudiesEpigenomics, or how the environment regulates our gene expression.
So far, the samples show that Scott’s and Mark’s bodies have diverged. For example, the telomeres – the protective caps on the end of DNA strands, which decrease in length as a person ages. Surprisingly, Scott’s telomeres on the ends of chromosomes in his white blood cells increased in length while in space. Scott’s telomeres began to shorten again when he returned to Earth.
Additionally, the researchers have says that there appeared to be a decline in bone formation during the second half of Scott’s mission. The Scott’s hormones experienced change too. The findings show that cortisol, the stress hormone, was low normal throughout the One Year mission, but IGF-1 hormone levels increased over the course of the year.
The final Twin study results will be released in a year or two, but these incomplete and preliminary results are indicating that life in space effect drastically on the human body and human genetic material.
NASA Human Research Program is of a great importance, discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe and productive human space travel. NASA is currently working toward a human mission to Mars in the 2030’s, which will last several years, and therefore is really important to learn more about the effects of extended stays in microgravity.
The future space mission will include the exploration at the greatest distance from the Earth ever experienced and will include extended days in space. That’s why NASA’s astronauts must be able to deal the most daunting conditions. Both physical and mental health of astronomers is crucial in a deep space mission, such is the Mission to Mars.