Deep space radiation linked to higher cardiovascular mortality in astronauts

Deep space radiation linked to higher cardiovascular mortality in astronauts

A recent research conducted by the scientists from the Florida State University (FSU) suggests a possible link between cardiovascular disease mortality and deep space radiation effects. The study is based on members of the Apollo space program who are experiencing higher rates of cardiovascular problems than scientists have previously thought can be caused by exposure to the radiation of deep space.

The research is the first to explore the mortality rate of the astronauts who participated in the Apollo program which ran between 1961 and 1972. In that period, 11 manned flights took place between 1968 and 1972, nine of which to deep space.

According to Michael Delp, the Professor and FSU Dean of the College of Human Sciences, the people who ventured into space were exposed to higher levels of radiation, not experienced by other astronauts, and that exposure is now manifested through cardiovascular problems: “We know very little about the effects of deep space radiation on human health, particularly on the cardiovascular system. This gives us the first glimpse into its adverse effects on humans.”

Video credit: The Florida State University

The research about possible deep space radiation exposure effects is of particular interest worldwide, as many nations make plans for deep space journeys. For example, NASA plans an orbital mission around the moon between 2020 and 2030 while preparing for a manned flight to Mars. At the same time, Russia, China, and ESA are preparing lunar missions. On the other hand, the private organization SpaceX plans the humans to land on Mars by 2026.

According to the study, 43% of deceased astronauts who participated in the Apollo program died of a cardiovascular condition. This is four to five times higher rate than non-flight astronauts or those who traveled only to the low planet's orbit. Out of 24 people who ventured into deep space, 8 have died, and 7 were included in the study. The eighth astronaut died after the data was analyzed.

Researchers exposed mice to the radiation the astronauts endured during their missions. After a six-month period, which is equivalent to 20 human years, the animals showed arteries impairments, which lead to a development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in humans.

“What the mouse data show is that deep space radiation is harmful to vascular health,” Delp concluded.

The scientists are cooperating with NASA to gain further insight on the radiation exposure effects on the human health.

Reference:

  • "Apollo Lunar Astronauts Show Higher Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: Possible Deep Space Radiation Effects on the Vascular Endothelium" - Michael D. Delp, Jacqueline M. Charvat, Charles L. Limoli, Ruth K. Globus & Payal Ghosh - Scientific Reports (2016) - doi:10.1038/srep29901

Featured image credit: The Florida State University

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