Working in space for an extended period of time can lead to cardiovascular problems and sleep disturbances. A study published in the Cell shows that everything can be related to mitochondria. Why do astronauts develop health problems? Scientists may have found an answer.
The study is cited by NASA and can provide answers to questions that have been asked about the effects that prolonged stay in space have on the health of astronauts.
The impact of the hostile environment of space has been analyzed in recent years and is instrumental in preparing longer missions, such as the first human mission to Mars.
Scott Kelly was one of the astronauts who spent the most time on the Space Station, and the evolution of his health status was closely monitored and compared to that of his twin brother, who was on land. The assessments made showed changes in the immune system after spending long months on the International Space Station in 2015, and scientists believe that this may be due to problems in mitochondrial activity, which changed while in space.
Mitochondria are energy-producing “powers” of cells, and the study published in the Cell includes data collected over decades of experiments and research on the International Space Station, including samples from 59 astronauts, showing effects of low gravity, radiation and prolonged presence in confined spaces.
Food is also a factor to consider, and NASA has already shared details about what astronauts eat on board.
When John Glenn completed his orbiting trip in 1962, he took apple puree into an aluminium tube, but at the time NASA didn’t even know if humans could eat food in microgravity.
The Space Food Systems Laboratory is in charge of researching foods that can be eaten in space. There are already more than 200 approved items on the menu to choose from before leaving for the Space Station, planning daily meals.
This is an example of a standard astronaut menu, which you can choose from around 200 items in advance. But there are no last-minute changes.
In microgravity, it takes some acrobatics to eat, as Scott Kelly shows.
Tim Kopra proved to be a “gourmet” with the special mixes he prepared for the defined foods. With Tacos
On Thanksgiving Day the astronauts also ate the traditional turkey.
At each refuelling, astronauts receive fresh food, but it must be gobbled to prevent it from deteriorating.
Nutrition is important to counteract some of the effects of space travel on the human body, such as loss of muscle mass and bone density, cardiovascular degradation, problems with immune function and vision changes.
NASA guarantees that the food and preparation process is intended to help astronauts have less homesickness. But normally nobody floats in the terrestrial kitchens
Some of the foods initially used by the astronauts have already been abandoned, such as sandwiches with gelatin topping, pressed bacon squares and “dry” ice cream. Even maple syrup has unusual behaviours in space, freezing and dehydrating food helps maintain nutrient quality at room temperature and reduces weight.
In this study, the researchers were surprised by the changes they identified. “We found a universal mechanism that explains the types of changes we see in the body in space, and in a place that we didn’t expect,” says Afshin Beheshti, the lead author of the article and researcher at KBR, who participates in NASA’s Ames Research Center. “Everything is out of place, and it all starts with mitochondria.”
The GeneLab platform is the first to capture large amounts of “omicro” data from space biology that can be used to characterize and quantify biological molecules – such as DNA, RNA and proteins – and their systematic effects on the structures and functions of organisms.
With these discoveries, scientists can develop strategies that help astronauts to live in space for longer periods without suffering the negative effects that have been identified and that lead to limiting their stay in orbit.