Apollo deep space astronauts are five times more likely to die from heart disease.
A team of researchers looking into the fate of the Apollo astronauts has discovered that their rate of death from cardiovascular disease is four to five times higher than that seen for astronauts of the same era who only flew in low Earth orbits(LEO), or who never flew on an orbital mission at all.
Health risks could be elevated as travel goes beyond the Earth’s protective magnetosphere into the more intense deep space radiation environment. The primary purpose of this study was to determine whether mortality rates due to cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, accidents and all other causes of death differ in astronauts who never flew orbital missions in space, astronauts who flew only in low Earth orbit and Apollo lunar astronauts, the only humans to have traveled beyond Earth’s magnetosphere.
A heightened risk for CVD among flight astronauts could be due to the direct effects of space radiation and weightlessness on the arterial vasculature. The study was conducted as NASA is planning to send humans to Mars in 2030s.
The experiment was conducted on a Mice, which showed that there were no CVD effects from the weightlessness but radiation were harmful.
“With deep-space radiation, really, the 24 Apollo astronauts that went to the moon are the only astronauts that have really been exposed to this, because all the others — cosmonauts and astronauts — have stayed in low-Earth orbit,” Michael Delp a researcher at Florida State University and lead author of the new study. He noted that “We can’t shield against high energy cosmic radiation, not with our current mass-limiting capabilities, but it does re-emphasise the importance of getting to Mars as quickly as possible. The less time you spend in deep space the less exposed you are getting to the radiation.”
The study is published in the journal “Scientific reports”