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Elon Musk Wants to Send Humans to Mars by 2026. We May Not Survive the Journey

Image for representation only. Credits: Reuters.

Image for representation only. Credits: Reuters.

Space flight and travel comes with a varying array of sicknesses, and they may all be the result of the mitochondria in your cells being damaged.

In space, nobody can hear you scream -- but you may not be in a Sandra-Bullock scenario, nor may you be in an Aliens scenario. Space may hurt you, even if you put the science-fiction aside.

The danger may in fact, not even be external -- but internal. A new study found that energy-producing structures in cells might be the reason astronauts face health risk while in space.

Over the years astronauts have reported loss of bone and muscle, while some have developed immune disorders or heart and liver issues - all which have been may be triggered by the same thing.

Frank Borman was probably the first person to barf in space. Borman was part of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission, which lifted off a launch pad in Florida on December 21, 1968. Over the next six days, the mission made history as it circled the moon and returned home. But Borman, who led the mission, became queasy near the beginning. “I threw up a couple of times,” he recalled in an interview in 1999

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He wasn't the only one: Gherman Titov, the second human in orbit, threw up. “They didn’t know what they were dealing with. At first they wondered if it was triggered by some central nervous system reaction to fluid shift in the body. Later, we found that wasn’t true. But when you go to orbit, you do change the rules. Humans are fundamentally flatlanders. Even though you’re not standing on the surface, the brain wants you to have one," Chuck Oman, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had told Air & Space Magazine in 2009.

Space sickness isn’t the only side effect to accompany the thrill of leaving Earth. A 2015 NASA report identified 30 factors that could make astronauts sick and unable to do their jobs. And there may be more, it said. Until people visit Mars it will be difficult to fully predict what could go wrong.

Some of the known risks aren't simple or minor: Along with space sickness, there is radiation — high-energy subatomic particles that will pass through an astronaut’s skin, damaging cells inside and out. Space travelers’ bones and muscles also can weaken as those body parts no longer have to constantly work against gravity. Blood and other fluids from the lower parts of the body can accumulate in upper body parts, including around the brain. One side effect: Astronauts may suffer hearing loss.

The new study by systems biologist, Afshin Beheshti, which was conducted by Dataf from NASA's GeneLab, looked at proteins and RNAs in each sample. The team also examined blood and urine from 59 astronauts. Spaceflight seemed to have caused many biochemical changes in them. One symptom: Space travelers had more chemicals known to trigger inflammation. The researchers also found signs of oxidative stress, a type of cell damage. That damage can be due to poorly functioning mitochondria.

Damage to mitochondria may be a common factor in spaceflight health risks, the team concluded, according to a recent report in Science News for Students.

Tesla CEO and SpaceX boss Elon Musk had mentioned his plans of taking humans to Mars for a while - and he finally has a timeline for it. About Mars specifically, for the first time ever, Musk has mentioned a time-line to get humans on the red planet. "Five and a half years," Musk told hosts Sriram Krishnan and Aarthi Ramamurthy at the beginning of the show, reports CNET.

While that's not a hard deadline. Musk listed a number of caveats -- there's a raft of technological advances that must be made in the intervening years.

Also Read: Elon Musk Shares Plan of Getting Humans to Mars By 2026. That's 7 Years Ahead of NASA

first published:February 08, 2021, 12:43 IST