Just Three Days in Space Changed Astronauts’ Bodies and Minds

The findings underscore the limited understanding that medical researchers have about the effects of space travel.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 during NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test on June 05, 2024, at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine have released new findings on the physical and mental changes experienced by four individuals who spent three days in space in September 2021.

Published this month in the journal Nature, the research reveals declines in cognitive function, stressed immune systems, and genetic changes in the participants’ cells.

Most of the observed changes reverted to normal after the astronauts returned to Earth. None of the alterations were deemed significant enough to halt future space missions.

However, the findings also underscore the limited understanding that medical researchers have about the effects of space travel.

A genomics, physiology, and biophysics professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and one of the study’s leaders, Christopher Mason, described the research as “the most in-depth examination we’ve ever had of a crew” during a Monday news conference.

The mission, known as Inspiration4, was notable for being the first orbital trip with no professional astronauts. Led by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, the crew included Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant and cancer survivor; Sian Proctor, a geoscience professor; and Christopher Sembroski, an engineer.

The crew members participated in medical experiments, providing samples of blood, urine, feces, and saliva. This data has been cataloged in the Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA), an online archive accessible to the public.

With an increasing number of private citizens embarking on space missions, researchers hope the Soma Atlas will soon include data from a more diverse group than the predominantly older white men of early space programs. This could lead to personalized treatments to mitigate the effects of space travel.


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