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NASA Twin Study Shows Humans Can Withstand Long Space Missions

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NASA has finally released the findings of the Twins Study featuring astronaut brothers Mark and Scott Kelly. The human body, apparently, can withstand long-duration space missions.

From 2015 to 2016, Scott Kelly spent 340 consecutive days on board the International Space Station in low orbit. He became the first American astronaut to spend almost a full year in space. His identical twin, Mark, stayed on Earth.

Long-Duration Space Flight And Human Health

Scientists documented their biomedical conditions to know the impacts of the space environment on human health and performance.

Using genetic sequencing, the study determined each of the brother's individual responses to the spaceflight environment and also probed at the molecular level, their whole body and brain functions.

Physiological measurements, immune, cardiovascular, vision-related, and cognitive data were collected from Mark and Scott for 27 months. Samples of blood, plasma, urine, and stool were also collected from the twins.

According to NASA, the study will provide a basis to assess the hazards of long-term space habitation.

Overall, the study suggests that human health can be mostly sustained for a year in spaceflight.

"When we go into space and experience microgravity and travel at speeds like 17,500 miles an hour, our bodies adapt and continue to function and, by and large, function extremely well," said Steven Platts, deputy chief scientist for NASA's Human Research Program.

3 Major Findings

The study also presented three major findings. First, Scott's telomeres or chromosomes appeared to have lengthened in space due to regular exercise and proper diet.

However, within hours after landing back on Earth, his telomeres shortened and returned to baseline length. Telomere length may relate to the health and lifespan of a group of cells, which can lead to possible therapies that can increase the overall health of an individual.

The second major finding showed that the immune system responded normally during space flight. Scott administered a flu vaccine in space and it worked exactly like it did on Earth. This finding may help provide vaccines to astronauts in space to stop illnesses before they even start.

Lastly, the third major finding of the research involved variability in gene expressions. This specific research will help learn how genes and gene expressions are related to diseases, impairments, and susceptibilities.

While in flight, there was a noticed variability and increase in certain genes being expressed. Once Scott was back on Earth, most of the gene expressions returned to baseline. It also showed that only a small percentage of gene expression did not return to baseline.

"NASA study results are accelerating the understanding about the effects of space flight on astronauts traveling further in space and it will help them improve life here on Earth," said Marissa Covington, Ph.D., NASA Twins Study coordinator.

The study includes the work of 84 scientists comprising 10 teams from 12 universities. The research that covered different aspects of the human body in space was coordinated by NASA's Human Research Program.

The full results are published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

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