NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly's DNA Changed in Space

Rodiano Bonacci
Marzo 14, 2018

From the challenges of growing and providing nutritious foods to managing an environment fraught with risks from radiation, lunar dust, zero-gravity conditions, and more, the Human Research Program (HRP) was established as a result of NASA's refocus of the space program on exploration in early 2004. It's a groundbreaking discovery that has huge implications for space travel, and for long-term colonies on places like the moon or Mars.

Scientists have been trying for years to understand the effects of space on the human body, and they were presented with a great opportunity thanks to the fact that NASA astronaut Scott Kelly has a twin brother, Mark.

Scott Kelly (on the left), and Mikhail Korniyenko (on the right), were selected for the one-year mission in 2012.

Scott stayed on the International Space Station from March 2015 to March 2016, while Mark remained on Earth. So they chose to run some tests and compare Scott's DNA to his brother's after spending some time in space, and they were pretty surprised by the results. As the saying goes, science takes time. So researchers tested both brothers before, during and after Scott's year in space to map specific changes in the astronauts' physical and mental health. This was the final mission for Scott, who spent a total of 520 days in space during his career.

The individual studies on the twins will be combined into a summary paper, as detailed in the graphic above. When the NASA veteran returned to Earth, researchers immediately noted that he had grown two inches in height. Some changes returned to baseline within hours or days of landing, while a few persisted after six months. Ten research teams presented their preliminary findings a year ago at NASA's Human Research Program 2017 Investigators' Workshop (IWS).

Of particular interest were the changes to Scott's DNA. This unexplained anomaly was verified with multiple assays and genomics testing. Researchers now know that 93 percent of Scott's genes returned to normal after landing. The altered 7 percent, however, could indicate long-term changes in genes connected to the immune system, DNA fix, bone formation networks, oxygen deprivation and elevated carbon dioxide levels. Hypercapnia refers to excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, typically caused by inadequate respiration. The results of this study will be helpful in preparing for future space missions. This could be a significant issue in prolonged space travel.

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