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Microgravity: living on the International Space Station
Microgravity: living on the International Space Station

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5 Research on astronauts and the ageing process

In the 1980s, NASA and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) held a conference [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to discuss the effects of microgravity on ageing. They looked at microgravity environments and how astronauts would readapt to Earth’s gravity after space flight. Would space travel affect them for the rest of their lives?

Using the scientific method of keeping one variable constant to measure changes to another variable, NASA researchers used a unique situation. They studied Scott and Mark Kelly, who are the only twins to have both worked as NASA astronauts (Figure 8).

Images are two colour photographs of the NASA twins, Scott and Mark Kelly.
Figure 8 NASA’s twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly.

Scott Kelly went more frequently into space than his twin brother and it was expected that, because of the dangerous nature of living in space, his DNA would be damaged more than Mark’s DNA. However, the opposite happened, and it looked like Scott’s DNA may actually have adapted to the environment in space!

Returning astronauts give medical scientists great opportunities to study all the effects of microgravity.

Now it’s time to measure your own general health in your second practical experiment.