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May 31 2019 - 12:00am
NASA's 4-Year Twin Experiment Teaches Us What Space Does to the Human Body

As long-term and even commercial space travel come closer to reality, research highlighting the effects of outer space on the human body is becoming more prevalent and more important. However, with a relatively small pool of research subjects, it’s been hard for scientists to determine exactly how an astronaut’s health might differ if they hadn’t gone to space.

Mass studies of astronauts might not be possible, but researchers have recently gathered unparallelled data on the long-term effects of space on the body with the help of an unusual pair: identical twin astronauts. Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days on the International Space Station, and Mark Kelly, who is an astronaut but has not spent prolonged periods of time in space, are the only twin astronauts in history.

Over the course of a year, while Scott was in space and Mark was on Earth, they took physical and cognitive tests which were then analyzed for differences. While the results are still being assessed, many scientists believe that the relative resilience of Scott’s body shows serious promise for longer and further space expeditions. The hope is that positive findings could support efforts to send humans to Mars.

What takeaways from this study do you find most interesting, controversial, or promising? What might next steps look like for these researchers? Join the discussion on Vialogues.

Excerpts from the discussion:

@01:56 Rebecca Sullivan: Since the study shows how different environmental factors such as radiation and stress affect our physiological makeup, I'm not sure how relevant it is to study twins. If things like stressful conditions and exposure to radiation can alter our DNA, then adult twins' earthbound DNA might look significantly different based on their divergent life experiences. It seems like measuring the change in chromosomes and telomeres before, during, and after space exploration would be just as effective as comparing the DNA of twins.

@05:11 Toland Lawrence: It's impressive how quickly Scott Kelly was able to recover after the stress his body was put under in space for a year. I'm blown away by how resilient our bodies actually are.

Posted in: New Learning TimesVialogues|By: Melanie Hering|141 Reads