While astronauts are bravely discovering new information about space, they also have to face multiple hazards.
First of all, there are the well-known risks implied by the high-speed space debris, equipment malfunction, and the challenging take-off and re-entry procedures, plus the unseen danger of space radiation.
However, to temper the risks, NASA worked on a method to predict space radiation exposure on the ISS.
Space radiation can come from three main sources – particles shot into space during solar flares, particles trapped into the planet’s magnetic field, and galactic cosmic rays, which come from outside the solar system.
Exposure to radiation can lead to modifications in the DNA, which spikes up the chances of developing cancer and other diseases, which is why NASA spent a lot of time figuring out how to protect astronauts from such hazards.
As quantifying the long-term impact of the radiation on the astronauts is no easy task, scientists began the study by analyzing modifications in an individual’s chromosomes.
The study aimed to analyze how the sensitivity of an astronaut’s DNA to radiation exposure on our planet can help predict DNA reactions during spaceflight, as measured by modifications in the chromosomes.
Honglu Wu, a senior scientist of the NASA Johnson Space Center, stated:
“We wanted to know if it is possible to detect and measure radiation exposure damage in the bodies of astronauts, and if there were differences based on age, sex, and other factors that could be measured before they go into space.”
The scientists analyzed astronauts’ blood cells before they left for an expedition to the ISS to figure out their baseline chromosomal condition, a reference to compare with future alterations.
The blood samples were subjected to gamma-ray radiation on our planet to check how quickly the cells reacted and accumulated the chromosomal modifications.
Earlier, people believed that younger individuals are at higher risk in the ISS, as radiation exposure needs roughly 20 years to lead to health complications like cancer.
Unfortunately, the new study revealed that older crew members were at higher risk of chromosomal changes than younger ones.
“When thinking about going to Mars, we typically have thought it might be better to send older astronauts because of their experience and lower risk of developing cancer in their lifetime. Now, based on this new research, we know that we should study the age effects of radiation exposure more,” Wu said.