[FPSPACE] Study: Apollo astronauts that went to the Moon 4 to 5X More Likely to Die from Heart Disease

Peter Pesavento pjp961 at svol.net
Thu Jul 28 17:11:05 EDT 2016


>From The Guardian (UK) newspaper

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jul/28/apollo-deep-space-astronauts
-five-times-more-likely-to-die-from-heart-disease

 


Apollo deep space astronauts five times more likely to die from heart
disease


First long-term study into health of Apollo crews shows deep space missions
might take their toll, exposing astronauts to blood vessel-damaging
radiation

 <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/nicola-davis> Nicola Davis

Thursday 28 July 2016 09.03 EDT

 

Travelling to the moon, Mars or beyond could dramatically increase an
astronaut's risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, the first research
into the long-term health of Apollo spacemen has revealed.

Nasa's Apollo programme sent nine manned missions and 24 astronauts beyond
low Earth orbit during the 1960s and early 1970s, including
<https://www.theguardian.com/science/apollo-11-moon-landing> Apollo 11,
which delivered Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. But it seems
such missions might have taken their toll.

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, or who never flew on an orbital mission at all.

That, the researchers say, suggests that venturing beyond the Earth's
protective magnetic field could cause long-lasting damage to the
cardiovascular system, potentially as a result of exposure to deep space
radiation.

The findings come as a number of space agencies and commercial enterprises
are looking to venture to the moon and beyond, with
<https://www.theguardian.com/science/nasa> Nasa planning to send humans to
Mars in the 2030s.

"With all of these plans for going into deep space we have only had this one
really small group [of Apollo astronauts] that has actually done it," said
Michael Delp, first author of the study from Florida State University.
"Previous to this study nobody had ever looked at their long-term health
consequences - really pulling out the Apollo astronauts out of the group of
other astronauts."

Jeff Hoffmann, former Nasa astronaut and director of the Man Vehicle Lab at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agreed, adding that when it comes
to travelling to the moon and beyond, the findings suggest speed might be of
the essence.

 "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," he said. "The less time you spend
in deep space the less exposed you are getting to the radiation."

Writing in the journal  <http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/srep29901>
Scientific Reports, a team of researchers including scientists from Johnson
Space Centre and Nasa Ames Research Centre describe how they compared the
causes of death for the seven Apollo astronauts who had died up to that
point with those of 35 low Earth orbit astronauts from the same era, and 35
non-flight astronauts.

While the sample size is tiny - a clear limitation to the study - the
results reveal that 45% of the Apollo astronauts died from cardiovascular
disease, compared to only 9% of non-flight astronauts and 11% of low Earth
orbit astronauts.

While no difference was seen when the rate was compared to that of the
general population, Delp believes that is most likely because astronauts are
very fit and healthy, whereas the members of the public suffer from a wide
range of conditions that could increase their risk of cardiovascular
disease.

"Part of the reason why this cardiovascular effect has never been uncovered
is because you are always looking and comparing [astronauts with] a general
population," he said.

To probe whether deep space radiation might be behind their findings, the
researchers exposed mice to conditions that simulated weightlessness as well
as the radiation found in deep space.

With previous studies showing that both radiation and weightlessness can, in
the short term, damage the blood vessels of the mice, the researchers waited
6-7 months before investigating the effects - a period equivalent to around
20 human years.

The results revealed that while weightlessness did not cause any lasting
cardiovascular harm, the radiation did. Mice exposed to radiation were found
to have sustained damage to the cells lining their blood vessels - damage
that could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The fact that, by contrast, weightlessness caused no lasting damage makes
sense, says Delp. "That corresponds with what we saw with the low Earth
orbit [astronauts] - they may have problems immediately when they come back,
which we know they do, but they recover."

Richard Hughson, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, who has studied
the effect space travel on the cardiovascular systems of astronauts,
described the new research as "fascinating".

While Hughson notes that the sample size for the Apollo lunar astronauts is
very small, he believes the study puts forward a plausible suggestion for
why lunar astronauts appear to be succumbing cardiovascular disease at a
higher than expected rate.

"I think it is really important that Nasa and the European Space Agency, the
Canadian  <https://www.theguardian.com/science/space> Space Agency, and so
on, recognise now that the cardiovascular system should be an important
focus, one they look at, when they send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit,"
he said.

With only an ultrasound device and a blood-pressure test needed to check for
damage to the lining of the blood vessels, Hughson believes astronauts could
monitor the effects of the radiation during their time in deep space, while
the results also flag the importance of checking up on the cardiovascular
health of astronauts once their have returned to Earth. "We just did this
within the last month on
<https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jun/18/tim-peake-health-six-months
-in-space> Tim Peake when he came back from space," he said.

Hoffman agrees that such check-ups are important. "I go down to Nasa every
year for a thorough physical examination and if they know that
cardiovascular fitness is important, that is something they can monitor you
for every year and hopefully reduce the risk of a premature death from heart
problems," he said.

Delp admits that a deeper look into the medical history of the Apollo
astronauts is needed to make sure that the findings are not the result of
other factors - including their somewhat eclectic post-mission lifestyles.
But, he adds, the new research also raises further conundrums, from the
radiation doses needed to damage the cardiovascular system to whether the
effects differ between the sexes and whether the problem can be lessened.

"All of these are future questions that really I think are important to
address before we start sending humans into deep space again," he said.

 

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