Space travel has its own pros and cons. With every progressing year, researchers include latest technologies to support the isolated harsh condition on the International Space Station where astronauts are stationed to perform experiments and other operations. As a part of a long-haul study, scientists have been studying genetics, psychological effect on astronauts when they are in space. In a similar study, two identical twins were studied, scientists found out that the space travel has actually altered the DNA by 7% of the astronaut compared to the brother who was on land.
Scott Kelly is a NASA astronaut who has completed more than 500 days in the space in his career. He recently went on a year-long mission on the International Space Station where he stayed for 342 days. Scott’s brother Mark Kelly, is a retired astronaut who stayed on the ground. Since Kelly and Mark are identical twins, they have pretty much a similar DNA makeup and that is what triggered the space agency to conduct a study and find out what changes happen when someone travels to space. The results were surprising.
According to the DNA analysis, Scott’s telomeres which are the end part of the chromosomes have become longer when he was in the space. Telomeres actually get shorter when one age and that is what seemed different in Scott’s case. The team studied different aspects of the genetic makeup and finally came up with the figure of 7% which is the total change in DNA of Scott compared to Mark which is a significant difference. Although the majority of telomeres stepped down to its original size after Scott landed on the Earth within two years on being on land, however, there are a handful of telomeres attached to chromosomes which have undergone permanent enlargement.
NASA has been conductive similar studies in order to prepare for the upcoming manned mission to Mars in 2030s. It would take 3 years for a return journey from Earth to Mars and back, thus, it is very crucial for the space agency to know the risks associated with spending more than 3-fold of time compared to Scott Kelly and that too on such as large distance. NASA has proclaimed its first manned mission to Mars in 2030s whereas SpaceX, a private space agency based in California has claimed its target of 2023 when it will launch humans on the red planet. For now, scientists at NASA will have to find a way out to prevent such significant changes that can be trivial in the long-run as well as other physiological and psychological limitations of human beings.