Home‎ > ‎Education‎ > ‎Articles‎ > ‎

Diseases and space exploration

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 27 mar 2020, 9:24 por Plataforma Sites Dgac   [ actualizado el 8 oct 2020, 10:38 ]
Viruses are presumed to have been around for at least 300 million years, according to findings in wasps’ studies. However, there are researchers who claim that they could have originated before or after the emergence of the first cells.
The relationship between health and protracted flights into space has become a great worry for NASA scientists.

(Fuente: NASA)

Scientists look for ways to keep astronauts healthy during long periods for future missions to deep space..

(Fuente: NASA)
Since the rise of hominids, that is, about three to four million years ago, great epidemics have struck Humanity, caused by viruses and bacteria. 

Some historians claim that about three thousand years ago, the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V would have died due to the virus that causes smallpox.

But what are viruses? That’s a difficult question. Viruses are said to be on the border between living and non-living, since they behave like living organisms in the presence of cells that they can attack, but before that they are like crystals, inactive, made up of genetic material and proteins. 

They are incapable of self-reproduction and only replicate when they enter a living cell. They need a living cell to multiply. They are much smaller than bacteria and are considered a disease-causing agent.

Like them, bacteria have also attacked humans, producing great epidemics. Since Athens, some 400 years before the birth of Christ, when the plague, caused by a bacterium decimated thousands and then the Black Death in the Middle Ages, between 1347 and 1352, which caused the death of between 30 and 50 percent the European population. 

A big challenge 

Regarding these epidemics and the coronavirus pandemic that plagues the planet and our country, this subject has been studied for decades in Russia, the United States and Europe in regards to space exploration: how to face diseases on long trips to the space. 

The evidence obtained from research carried out so far on space physiology indicates that astronauts subjected to strong physiological and psychological stress can reactivate latent viruses in their bodies. 

Both launches and landings of spacecraft on Earth are affected by conditions of micro and hypergravity that cause dysfunctions in the astronauts’ immune systems. 

Increased levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which suppress the immune system, are known to awaken the action of latent viruses and diseases after a trip into space. 

Doctors have established that the reactivation rate of varicella zoster in astronauts is more frequent than any other viruses, even the flu.

Immune system

The United States, Russia, China, the European Community and India have set ambitious space exploration programs to the Moon, Mars and beyond. 

Besides of all the technological challenges of space exploration, there’s the human response capacity to diseases that could be triggered in prolonged trips outside the planet. 

NASA is carrying out an ambitious program called “Functional Immune”, an investigation that takes place on the International Space Station and that has to do with the immune response of the human body in weightless conditions to external and biological threats from a crew traveling through space. 

Microgravity has been shown to cause changes in the immune system, a situation that can affect some astronauts in various ways, from skin rashes and unusual allergies to the reactivation of a latent virus. 

Virus reactivation 

The researchers found that viruses found in blood, urine and saliva samples have been reactivated in healthy astronauts. 

This situation can be triggered anytime the immune system weakens in a microgravity environment or even during stressful situations on Earth. 

Considering the above, scientists have directed their studies in a different line, this time in healthy individuals to define - and, perhaps, develop - mitigations for immune problems before embarking on missions to deep space, where the immune system will be subjected to conditions of microgravity for very long periods of time. 

Healthy organisms 

Until now, the only measures at hand for space travel are preventive, the use of protective vaccines, good nutrition, physical exercise, pasteurization of food and filters in the air that astronauts breathe. 

For missions to deep space, where crew members will not have access to quick-return options, staying healthy is important for both astronaut safety and mission success. 

The current studies have been aimed to the investigation of healthy organisms in order to discover and treat a disease before it occurs.

Coronavirus has reactivated, fueled and motivated new lines of research to protect the human species on our planet and in future explorations and colonization of other worlds.