How living In Space May Have Changed Scott Kelly’s Body

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth after 340-day-long stay aboard the International Space Station. It’s the longest amount of time an American astronaut has lived in space, says NASA. The extended stay was part of the space agency’s One-Year Mission, an experiment to see how long-term spaceflight changes the human body.

Living for months in microgravity can alter many of the body’s systems since humans evolved on Earth. Astronauts who have stayed in space for long periods have problems with their circulation and eyesight. That’s in addition to losses in bone and muscle tissue. Kelly has collected fluid samples and undergone rigorous medical testing to document these changes over the course of his trip.

Kelly’s various samples helped NASA to understand the effects of space on our health. NASA is eager to send astronauts to Mars someday, and a round-trip mission to the Red Planet is going to be at least two to three years. So Astronauts on these deep-space voyages need to know what kinds of health changes they can expect along the way, as well as how to determine whether dizziness is being caused by poor circulation or a disturbed sense of balance. Correct diagnosis is key for managing the effects of space.

Some people also experience more bone loss or eyesight changes than others when in space, and NASA isn’t exactly sure why. Scott Kelly’s identical twin brother, Mark, has been serving as a “control” subject for the One-Year Mission by remaining on Earth. Since there are very few differences between the brothers’ genes, comparing samples from the twins will help researchers determine if there is a genetic basis for some of the health effects in space.

Kelly has likely lost a significant amount of muscle mass and bone density while on board the ISS. Just to stand up or walk around on Earth, the body has to work against gravity, which is constantly pulling down. In space, gravity is no longer a factor, so people don’t get that same level of exercise just from going about their daily lives. Astronauts must perform up to 2.5 hours of exercises every day, such as running on a treadmill and weightlifting, to counteract this effect.

Kelly’s involvement in the One-Year Mission started long before he launched to the ISS. He and his brother Mark took body samples and underwent various medical tests, such as MRIs and ultrasounds, for a year before the spaceflight, according to NASA. The idea was to create a comprehensive picture of how healthy the two brothers were before launch.

Kelly continued taking samples about once a month during his time on board the ISS, according to Scott. He also monitored his heart rate and blood pressure; he even used ultrasound technology on the station to scan his heart and eyes. With all those data NASA is analysing Biological and Mental changes for future long-term missions.

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