London: Astronauts who venture into deep space appear to be much more likely to die from heart disease, according to a new study.
In another sign that leaving planet Earth is fraught with danger and a potential blow to hopes of establishing a colony on Mars, researchers discovered deep space radiation appeared to damage the body’s cardiovascular system.
They reported that three out of the seven dead Apollo astronauts died as a result of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Although the numbers are small, that rate of 43% is four to five times higher than found among astronauts who flew in low Earth orbit or who did not actually go into space, according to a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.
Professor Michael Delp, one of the researchers, said: “We know very little about the effects of deep space radiation on human health, particularly on the cardiovascular system. This gives us the first glimpse into its adverse effects on humans.”
To test whether the higher numbers of cardiovascular deaths were simply a statistical blip or a genuine sign of the effect of travelling into deep space, the scientists exposed mice to the same type of radiation that the astronauts would have experienced.
After six months, equivalent to 20 human years, the mice showed damage to arteries known to lead to cardiovascular disease in humans.
“What the mouse data show is that deep space radiation is harmful to vascular health,” said Professor Delp of Florida State University.
After returning to Earth following his stay in the International Space Station last month, British astronaut Major Tim Peake described the feeling as the “world’s worst hangover”.
He told a press conference before leaving the space station that it would “take me several months before my body fully recovers in terms of bone density”.
“But generally speaking, in two or three days I should be fairly comfortable back on Earth,” he said.
– The Independent