Space oddities: the twins helping us reach for the stars

NASA studying potential risks of long-duration spaceflight with astronaut twins

NASA twins – Scott and Mark Kelly

This correlated with data from other researchers involved in the current study who found increases in certain biochemical markers associated with inflammation in Scott but not Mark.

It's also impossible to say whether Kelly's time in space is responsible for the changes documented in the study. Scott Kelly and his identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly participated in the unprecedented yearlong investigation, conducted by NASA's Human Research Program.

The findings were published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, on some notable space anniversaries - when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space in 1961, and the first launch of the space shuttle in 1981. The study's results showed that Scott Kelly's body responded appropriately to the vaccine, enabling NASA to have more confidence in immune system response on long-duration missions. His body acted as if it were under attack. Whereas Scott and Mark Kelly did not eat the same foods during the yearlong study, mice in previous studies ate the exact same diet.

The US space agency NASA did just that and published the findings on Thursday of a landmark study that could provide insights into the hazards of long space flights such as a mission to Mars. "We have only scratched the surface of knowledge about the body in space". They are also one of the most interviewed.

At Stanford, Michael Snyder, MD, and a team of researchers characterized the molecular shifts in both Kellys; they examined the immune-, metabolic- and protein production-related stresses imposed by space capsule launch, zero gravity and re-entry to Earth.

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Several months after his return to Earth, Scott Kelly continued to exhibit these effects of space on his body. "So in that sense, or from the perspective of aging and health risks, that could be where he might be at increased risk for ... cardiovascular disease, for example, or some types of cancer".

The findings showed that the telomeres in Scott's white blood cells, which are biomarkers of ageing at the end of chromosomes, were unexpectedly longer in space then shorter after his return to Earth with average telomere length returning to normal six months later. "Our study established protocols for collecting and transporting samples for future multi-omics studies on astronauts".

"Imagine going to take the SATs when you have the flu". I can't say I felt a change in my immune system, but I definitely felt not well. "The most worrisome symptoms I had, which was swelling in my legs, the rashes, were gone after a couple of weeks".

Most other results were a mix of good and bad.

Mason and his team analyzed the genes of Scott and Mark across six months before Scott's trip, during his time aboard the station and nine months after his return. What was particularly hard, he said, was getting used to not having a schedule dictating his life in five-minute increments every single day, like there was in space.

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"Cardiovascular changes akin to atherosclerosis have also been observed in astronauts after a long duration flight". But the most important experiment was the one he left behind: his identical twin.

"This is the dawn of human genomics in space", he said in a statement.

The impact of space on the genome was even more dramatic-and it happened fast. Interplanetary spaceflight, or journeys to the moon, will expose astronauts to much higher levels of radiation. "We need more studies of astronauts to draw such conclusions". "We were surprised", said Colorado State University telomere expert Susan Bailey.

Mark Kelly, now a candidate for senate, praised his brother's commitment to science.

Scott Kelly during the flight experienced thickening of the carotid artery and retina, weight loss, shifts in gut microbes, reductions in cognitive abilities, DNA damage, changes in gene expression, and a lengthening of the ends of chromosomes called telomeres, scientists said. Einstein's special theory of relativity leads to a "twins paradox" in which someone moving at a high velocity, such as 17,500 miles per hour in low Earth orbit, ages more slowly than a twin on Earth.

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"Hey, Mark, just real quick to interrupt you though, but I got all the glory, and you got a lot of work", said Scott. I'm not anxious. I'll be on a beach in the Bahamas, and he's going to be hopefully in the U.S. Senate. "He's busy running for office".

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