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Working In Space Does Not Shorten Astronaut’s Lives: Study

Astronauts have typically never smoked, leading to a lower risk of heart disease than the general population

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Astronauts
NASA astronauts Scott Kelly, right, and Tim Kopra shake hands as Kelly turns over command of the International Space Station to Kopra, Feb. 29, 2016. VOA

Although space travel exposes astronauts to forms of radiation that are uncommon on Earth, and that are linked to cancers and heart problems, a U.S. study suggests this doesn’t significantly shorten their lives.

Researchers compared nearly 60 years of data on U.S. male astronauts and a group of men who are similarly extra-fit, affluent and receive elite health care: pro athletes. They found that neither group has higher rates than the other of death overall or of early deaths. Both groups do tend to outlast the rest of us, however.

Astronauts are generally well-educated, more affluent and more physically fit than the typical American, and some previous research has linked this career to a lower risk of premature death, the study team notes in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

But much of the previous research on mortality rates in astronauts hasn’t accounted for the mental and physical demands of this career, or the so-called “healthy worker effect” that leads people with employment of any kind to typically have fewer medical issues than individuals who are unable to work, said study co-author Robert Reynolds of Mortality Research & Consulting Inc. in City of Industry, Calif.

NASA, moon, space
The Apollo 8 crew lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Dec. 21, 1968. VOA

Comparable group needed

“The challenge has always been to understand if astronauts are as healthy as they would be had they been otherwise comparably employed but had never gone to space at all,” Reynolds said by email. “To do this, we needed to find a group that is comparable on several important factors, but has never been to space.”

The researchers compared mortality rates for male U.S. astronauts to those of professional athletes from Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association between 1960 and mid-2018.

Both athletes and astronauts had a lower risk of premature death than the general population, the study found. And there was no meaningful mortality difference between NBA and MLB players.

Astronauts were more likely to die of accidents and other external causes, and less likely to die from heart disease and all other natural causes, the study also found.

“We cannot be sure from the data we have, but we speculate that cardiovascular fitness in particular is the most important factor in astronaut longevity,” Reynolds said.

Astronauts, space
NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, right, and Barry Wilmore work inside the International Space Station on October 1, 2014. The results suggest that radiation exposure in space. VOA

The results suggest that radiation exposure in space might not lead to a premature death for astronauts due to heart problems or certain cancers, the study authors conclude. In fact, astronauts had a lower rate of death from heart disease than the NBA and MLB players, and had cancer mortality similar to the athletes’ rates.

The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how space travel may directly impact human health. It also didn’t examine mortality among female astronauts or athletes.

Lower radiation exposure

Radiation exposure may also have been much lower during early missions to the moon and not reflect what would happen with the current generation of astronauts, said Francis Cucinotta, a researcher at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Russian Rocket, Soyuz, Astronauts
From left: CSA astronaut David Saint Jacques, Russian cosmonaut Оleg Kononenko‎ and U.S. astronaut Anne McClain pose in a mock-up of a Soyuz space craft at Russian Space Training Center in Star City, Russia. VOA

“The missions in the past were low dose, while in the future the dose would be 50 to 100 times higher for a Mars mission,” Cucinotta said by email.

Astronauts have typically never smoked, leading to a lower risk of heart disease than the general population, Cucinotta added.

Diet and exercise also set astronauts and professional athletes apart from the rest of the population, said Michael Delp, a researcher at Florida State University in Tallahassee who wasn’t involved in the study.

Also Read: Elon Musk-Owned SpaceX Successfully Deploys US GPS Satellite Into Orbit

“When physical fitness is a requisite part of a job, such as with astronauts and professional athletes, this is a major determinant of the healthy worker effect,” Delp said by email.

Even for the rest of us, “remaining or becoming physically active and maintaining a well-balanced diet greatly improves overall health and well-being, and can enhance successful aging,” Delp said. (VOA)

Next Story

ISRO to Build Centre to Monitor and Protect High Value Space Assets

Space Situational Awareness & Management (SSAM) has become an internationally significant area due to the ever growing manmade space debris population

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ISRO, Space, Assets
K. Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), laid the foundation stone for the Space Situational Awareness Control Centre in Peenya, Bengaluru, on Friday. Pixabay

The Indian space agency on Saturday said that the foundation stone for a centre to monitor and protect high value space assets from space debris has been laid.

K. Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), laid the foundation stone for the Space Situational Awareness Control Centre in Peenya, Bengaluru, on Friday.

“Space Situational Awareness & Management (SSAM) has become an internationally significant area due to the ever growing manmade space debris population and the increased collision threat with operational spacecraft,” ISRO said in a statement.

“ISRO has set up a Directorate of Space Situational Awareness and Management aiming at protecting high valued space assets from space debris close approaches and collisions. To carryout systematically all activities related to SSAM, a control centre is being established at Bengaluru,” the space agency said.

ISRO, Space, Assets
The Indian space agency on Saturday said that the foundation stone for a centre to monitor and protect high value space assets from space debris has been laid. Pixabay

According to ISRO, the control centre would facilitate the intensified activities foreseen for SSAM, in view of the increasing debris population and operational space assets.

The control centre would host a range of activities pertaining to protection of Indian space assets from inactive satellites, pieces of orbiting objects, near earth asteroids and adverse space weather conditions.

It would assimilate the tracking data of inactive satellites from indigenous observation facilities and generate useful information from bare observations through analysis.

Also Read- Artificial Intelligence (AI) can Detect Signs of Irregular Heart Rhythm

For sustainable use of space, the control centre would enable research activities pertaining to active debris removal, space debris modelling and mitigation, the ISRO said. (IANS)