Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Human spaceflight


As multiple spacefaring nations contemplate extended manned missions to Mars and the Moon, health risks could be elevated as travel goes beyond the Earth’s protective magnetosphere into the more intense deep space radiation environment. The primary purpose of this study was to determine whether mortality rates due to cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, accidents and all other causes of death differ in (1) astronauts who never flew orbital missions in space, (2) astronauts who flew only in low Earth orbit (LEO), and (3) Apollo lunar astronauts, the only humans to have traveled beyond Earth’s magnetosphere. Results show there were no differences in CVD mortality rate between non-flight (9%) and LEO (11%) astronauts. However, the CVD mortality rate among Apollo lunar astronauts (43%) was 4-5 times higher than in non-flight and LEO astronauts. To test a possible mechanistic basis for these findings, a secondary purpose was to determine the long-term effects of simulated weightlessness and space-relevant total-body irradiation on vascular responsiveness in mice. The results demonstrate that space-relevant irradiation induces a sustained vascular endothelial cell dysfunction. Such impairment is known to lead to occlusive artery disease, and may be an important risk factor for CVD among astronauts exposed to deep space radiation.

Concepts: Mortality rate, Atherosclerosis, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Blood vessel, Moon, Endothelium, Human spaceflight


Manned space flight induces a reduction in immune competence among crew and is likely to cause deleterious changes to the composition of the gastrointestinal, nasal, and respiratory bacterial flora, leading to an increased risk of infection. The space flight environment may also affect the susceptibility of microorganisms within the spacecraft to antibiotics, key components of flown medical kits, and may modify the virulence characteristics of bacteria and other microorganisms that contaminate the fabric of the International Space Station and other flight platforms. This review will consider the impact of true and simulated microgravity and other characteristics of the space flight environment on bacterial cell behavior in relation to the potential for serious infections that may appear during missions to astronomical objects beyond low Earth orbit.

Concepts: Bacteria, Antibiotic, Microorganism, International Space Station, Space exploration, Human spaceflight, Spaceflight, Satellite


The International Space Station (ISS) is a unique built environment due to the effects of microgravity, space radiation, elevated carbon dioxide levels, and especially continuous human habitation. Understanding the composition of the ISS microbial community will facilitate further development of safety and maintenance practices. The primary goal of this study was to characterize the viable microbiome of the ISS-built environment. A second objective was to determine if the built environments of Earth-based cleanrooms associated with space exploration are an appropriate model of the ISS environment.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural environment, International Space Station, Space exploration, Mir, Human spaceflight, Outer space, Space Shuttle


This paper demonstrates the significant utility of deploying non-traditional biological techniques to harness available volatiles and waste resources on manned missions to explore the Moon and Mars. Compared with anticipated non-biological approaches, it is determined that for 916 day Martian missions: 205 days of high-quality methane and oxygen Mars bioproduction with Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum can reduce the mass of a Martian fuel-manufacture plant by 56%; 496 days of biomass generation with Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima on Mars can decrease the shipped wet-food mixed-menu mass for a Mars stay and a one-way voyage by 38%; 202 days of Mars polyhydroxybutyrate synthesis with Cupriavidus necator can lower the shipped mass to three-dimensional print a 120 m(3) six-person habitat by 85% and a few days of acetaminophen production with engineered Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 can completely replenish expired or irradiated stocks of the pharmaceutical, thereby providing independence from unmanned resupply spacecraft that take up to 210 days to arrive. Analogous outcomes are included for lunar missions. Because of the benign assumptions involved, the results provide a glimpse of the intriguing potential of ‘space synthetic biology’, and help focus related efforts for immediate, near-term impact.

Concepts: Solar System, Mars, Moon, Spacecraft, Space exploration, Human spaceflight, NASA, Robotic spacecraft


The Mars500 project was conceived as the first full duration simulation of a crewed return flight to Mars. For 520 days, six crew members lived confined in a specifically designed spacecraft mock-up. The herein described “MIcrobial ecology of Confined Habitats and humAn health” (MICHA) experiment was implemented to acquire comprehensive microbiota data from this unique, confined manned habitat, to retrieve important information on the occurring microbiota dynamics, the microbial load and diversity in the air and on various surfaces. In total, 360 samples from 20 (9 air, 11 surface) locations were taken at 18 time-points and processed by extensive cultivation, PhyloChip and next generation sequencing (NGS) of 16S rRNA gene amplicons.

Concepts: Archaea, Ribosomal RNA, 16S ribosomal RNA, Spacecraft, Space exploration, Human spaceflight, Spaceflight, Space Shuttle


The built environment of the International Space Station (ISS) is a highly specialized space in terms of both physical characteristics and habitation requirements. It is unique with respect to conditions of microgravity, exposure to space radiation, and increased carbon dioxide concentrations. Additionally, astronauts inhabit a large proportion of this environment. The microbial composition of ISS particulates has been reported; however, its functional genomics, which are pertinent due to potential impact of its constituents on human health and operational mission success, are not yet characterized.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Human, Genomics, Carbon, International Space Station, Mir, Space Station Freedom, Human spaceflight


Background There is limited information regarding the effects of spaceflight on the anatomical configuration of the brain and on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) spaces. Methods We used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare images of 18 astronauts' brains before and after missions of long duration, involving stays on the International Space Station, and of 16 astronauts' brains before and after missions of short duration, involving participation in the Space Shuttle Program. Images were interpreted by readers who were unaware of the flight duration. We also generated paired preflight and postflight MRI cine clips derived from high-resolution, three-dimensional imaging of 12 astronauts after long-duration flights and from 6 astronauts after short-duration flights in order to assess the extent of narrowing of CSF spaces and the displacement of brain structures. We also compared preflight ventricular volumes with postflight ventricular volumes by means of an automated analysis of T1-weighted MRIs. The main prespecified analyses focused on the change in the volume of the central sulcus, the change in the volume of CSF spaces at the vertex, and vertical displacement of the brain. Results Narrowing of the central sulcus occurred in 17 of 18 astronauts after long-duration flights (mean flight time, 164.8 days) and in 3 of 16 astronauts after short-duration flights (mean flight time, 13.6 days) (P<0.001). Cine clips from a subgroup of astronauts showed an upward shift of the brain after all long-duration flights (12 astronauts) but not after short-duration flights (6 astronauts) and narrowing of CSF spaces at the vertex after all long-duration flights (12 astronauts) and in 1 of 6 astronauts after short-duration flights. Three astronauts in the long-duration group had optic-disk edema, and all 3 had narrowing of the central sulcus. A cine clip was available for 1 of these 3 astronauts, and the cine clip showed upward shift of the brain. Conclusions Narrowing of the central sulcus, upward shift of the brain, and narrowing of CSF spaces at the vertex occurred frequently and predominantly in astronauts after long-duration flights. Further investigation, including repeated postflight imaging conducted after some time on Earth, is required to determine the duration and clinical significance of these changes. (Funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.).

Concepts: Brain, Brain tumor, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrospinal fluid, Ventricular system, International Space Station, Space exploration, Human spaceflight


On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space. Although National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had discounted the need for him to urinate, Shepard did, in his spacesuit, short circuiting his electronic biosensors. With the development of the pressure suit needed for high-altitude and space flight during the 1950s, technicians had developed the means for urine collection. However, cultural mores, combined with a lack of interagency communication, and the technical difficulties of spaceflight made human waste collection a difficult task. Despite the difficulties, technicians at NASA created a successful urine collection device that John Glenn wore on the first Mercury orbital flight on February 20, 1962. With minor modifications, male astronauts used this system to collect urine until the Space Shuttle program. John Glenn’s urine collection device is at the National Air and Space Museum and has been on view to the public since 1976.

Concepts: Spacecraft, International Space Station, Space exploration, Human spaceflight, NASA, Outer space, Space Shuttle, John Glenn


A number of ophthalmic findings including optic disc edema, globe flattening, and choroidal folds have been observed in several astronauts after long-duration space flights. The authors report the first astronaut with previously documented postflight ophthalmic abnormalities who developed new pathological changes after a repeat long-duration mission.

Concepts: Force, Human spaceflight, Spaceflight, Flight, Rocket, Astronaut


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health issue. In an effort to minimize this threat to astronauts, who may be immunocompromised and thus at a greater risk of infection from antimicrobial resistant pathogens, a comprehensive study of the ISS “resistome' was conducted. Using whole genome sequencing (WGS) and disc diffusion antibiotic resistance assays, 9 biosafety level 2 organisms isolated from the ISS were assessed for their antibiotic resistance. Molecular analysis of AMR genes from 24 surface samples collected from the ISS during 3 different sampling events over a span of a year were analyzed with Ion AmpliSeq™ and metagenomics. Disc diffusion assays showed that Enterobacter bugandensis strains were resistant to all 9 antibiotics tested and Staphylococcus haemolyticus being resistant to none. Ion AmpliSeq™ revealed that 123 AMR genes were found, with those responsible for beta-lactam and trimethoprim resistance being the most abundant and widespread. Using a variety of methods, the genes involved in antimicrobial resistance have been examined for the first time from the ISS. This information could lead to mitigation strategies to maintain astronaut health during long duration space missions when return to Earth for treatment is not possible.

Concepts: Gene, Bacteria, Virus, Antibiotic resistance, Penicillin, International Space Station, Mir, Human spaceflight