Long Space Travel Hurts Immunity

For 21 years we have been launching humans into space to go to the International Space Station (ISS). Usually as a seven person team, they orbit the Earth 16 times in a 24 hour period. However, when they’re up there, they do have to do some extra work to stay healthy. One of the most important health risks they face is a weakening immune system. Outerspace does not have the particular atmosphere and amount of oxygen we need, so when the astronauts stay up there for long periods of time their immune systems get thrown off track. Although, NASA does have ways to figure out if immune systems are working. 

In earlier years, the NASA scientists only had access to tests and samples after landing. Which were not the best to use because if the immune system wasn’t working like it should, they weren’t sure if it was because of being in space or landing and readjusting to Earth. According to nasa.gov, they can now receive blood samples from the International Space Station in just under 40 hours. It will then be faster to know if any of the astronauts are sick in any way and the scientists on Earth can get the sick astronaut back to Earth if needed quicker. The proteins in the blood that the scientists are looking at are cytokines. Which according to nasa.gov, “help regulate immune responses”. There are also viruses, hormones, and other indicators that will help reveal if the immune system is working hard or is declining in health. At NASA, there are experiments going on to learn more about this and gain more knowledge. 

The experiments consist of the astronauts in space and a group of ten on the ground who were never exposed to space travel. According to nasa.gov, the group on the ground are the same age and gender as the astronauts. The control group on the ground will help see where the immune systems should be and where the astronauts’ are. Especially because as you get older your immune system changes more and the change highly depends on the gender. Otherwise, at the University of California San Francisco, astronauts became sick with at least a common cold in a week of returning to Earth. Which could be evidence of outer space declining immune systems. 

Overall, NASA and other scientists are working to find a treatment for immune systems as space travel gets farther and farther from Earth. 

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