Space flight could age immune systems in astronauts, a new study reveals.

Mars One, a private organization dedicated to landing humans on the Red Planet in the next 15 years, will need to know how their passengers will react to long periods of time in reduced gravity. Sometime in the 2030's, NASA is also planning to send space travelers to Mars.

Mice kept in conditions similar to microgravity environments suffered a loss of B lymphocyte in their bone marrow. These cells produce antibodies which are fed to the rest of the body. The effects of long periods with reduced gravity seen in the study were similar to those seen in elderly rodents.

"This study shows that a model of spaceflight conditions could not only be used to test the efficacy of molecules to improve immune responses following a spaceflight in astronauts, but also in the elderly and bed-ridden populations on Earth," Jean-Pol Frippiat of the Stress, Immunity and Pathogens Laboratory at Lorraine University in France said.

Mice in the study were subjected to hindlimb unloading (HU), in order to simulate the effects of microgravity environments. During this process, researchers lift the rear legs of mice until the bodies of the mice reach an angle of 30 degrees. The research technique was developed by researchers at NASA in the middle of the 1970's.

Long-term space travel could have other significant effects on human health, and organizations around the world are investigating how to keep people healthy while colonizing space.

On March 27, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will lift into space, headed for a year-long mission aboard the International Space Station. Moscow has more experience in long-term space travel than the American space agency does. Most missions to the ISS last for six months, and NASA wants to study the effects of space travel on Kelly and Kornienko before committing to longer missions.

"We're talking about it scientifically, but we're not really having deep discussions about it until we have the first information from the first two. If we see something dramatic, that's going to change how everybody looks at having additional one-year missions," Julie Robinson, NASA space station program scientist, said.

Space travelers aboard the ISS are studying the effects of microgravity environments on roundworms. Caenorhabditis elegans, the worm being examined, has a transparent body, allowing researchers to easily examine muscle systems.

"For biologists and medical researchers, knowing how altered gravity affect our immune system from challenges aloft can be already be studied on Earth. Fortunately for biologists, it's not rocket science," Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), said.

Study of the effects of spaceflight on the human immune system was detailed in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

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