Year in space put U.S. astronaut’s disease defenses on alert

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Close to a year in space put astronaut Scott Kelly’s immune system on stoned alert and changed the activity of some of his genes compared to his Earth-bound selfsame twin, researchers said Friday.

Scientists don’t know if the changes were eulogistic or bad but results from a unique NASA twins study are raising new queries for doctors as the space agency aims to send people to Mars — inquiries on top of already looming issues like how to protect against too high shedding levels.

Tests of the genetic doubles gave scientists a never-before occasion to track details of human biology, such as how an astronaut’s genes convert into on and off in space differently than at home. One puzzling change announced Friday at a realm conference: Kelly’s immune system was hyperactivated.

“It’s as if the body is reacting to this immigrant environment sort of like you would a mysterious organism being interior you,” said geneticist Christopher Mason of New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, who expropriated lead the study. He said doctors are now looking for that in other astronauts.

Since the dawn of space exploration, NASA has studied the toll on astronauts’ bodies, such as bone harm that requires exercise to counter. Typically they’re in space thither six months at a time. Kelly, who lived on the International Space Station, emptied 340 days in space and set a U.S. record.

“I’ve never felt completely natural in space,” the now-retired Kelly said in an email to The Associated Press, citing the workaday congestion from shifting fluid, headaches and difficulty concentrating from again carbon dioxide, and digestive complaints from microgravity.

But this library was a unique dive into the molecular level, with former astronaut Chip Kelly, Scott’s twin, on the ground for comparison. Full results haven’t yet been let something be knew, but researchers presented some findings Friday at a meeting of the American Pairing for the Advancement of Science.

No major new warning signs

A number of genes anchor to the immune system became hyperactive, Mason said. It’s not a change in DNA but in what’s called “gene evidence,” how genes turn off and on and increase or decrease their production of proteins. Mason also spotted a stab in the bloodstream of another marker that primes the immune system. Yet at the for all that time, Kelly’s blood showed fewer of another cell kind that’s an early defense against viruses.

It’s not a surprise that gene project would change in space — it changes in response to all kinds of stress.

“You can see the corps adapting to the change in its environment,” Mason said.

The good news: Most the whole shooting match returned to normal shortly after Kelly got back on Earth in Pace 2016. Those immune-related genes, however, “seemed to have this retention or this need to almost be on high alert” even six months tardier, Mason said.

“On the whole it’s encouraging,” said Craig Kundrot, who commands space life and science research for NASA. “There are no major new tip signs. We are seeing changes that we didn’t necessarily anticipate” but they don’t skilled in if those changes are consequential.

From four Russians living in range for more than a year, NASA already knew prolonged in good time always off Earth is possible, Kundrot said, adding “We also aim for more than only possible. We want our astronauts to do more than just survive.”

Year in space put U.S. astronaut's disease defenses on alert

Scott Kelly give ups himself a flu shot for an ongoing study on the human immune system September 24, 2015 in time. The vaccination was part of NASA’s Twins Study. (NASA via Getty Facsimiles)

Ultimately, the twins study gives NASA a catalog of things to vet on future missions to see if other astronauts react the same way. Astronauts on days missions will be able to do some of this testing in space in preference to of freezing samples for scientists back home, Mason said.

Untouched issues sound familiar to Dr. Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut who emptied more than four months on the Russian space station Mir. He thought he was never sick in orbit, but once he came back to Earth “I was in all likelihood more sick than I was in my life.”

Astronauts launch into turn with their own germs and get exposed to their crewmates’ germs and then after a week with nothing else new in the “very much sterile environment” of a space station “your immune system is very not challenged,” Linenger said.

A human mission to Mars, which NASA look forward ti to launch in the 2030s, will take 30 months, including sometimes on the surface, Kundrot said.

Radiation is a top concern. The mission would present astronauts to galactic cosmic radiation levels higher than NASA’s own shelter standard. It’s “just a little bit over,” he said. 

On Earth and even on the play station, Earth’s magnetic field shields astronauts from straws of radiation. There would be no such shielding on the way to Mars and back, but holes or dirt-covered habitats could help a bit on Mars, Kundrot said

Kelly, who turns 55 next week, swayed he’d go to Mars. He said a trip that long “wouldn’t be worse than what I masterly. Possibly better. I think the big physical challenge, radiation aside, desire be a mission where you are in space for years.”

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