Want to find out the NASA’s Twins Experiment results? Or do want to know what this whole experiment is about in the first place? How about sticking to the second option?

The Twins Experiment is a part of a giant research program that is important for the future universe exploration. And the results will be crucial for the for the human beings who goes to outer space.

It is great that nowadays research about space missions have become available for the public. You do not need a special access card to be able to gather the latest information.

Certainly, there will always remain some questions left without answers. And enough protocols that are not revealed to the general public. But all in all, we are much more involved with the human and space related issues today. It is fascinating how much progress we have made in this field in the past decades.

Human Research Program

The number one mission of HRP is to find the best ways of providing productive and safe human travel. Okay, but humans have made it to outer space years ago. Why has such a program emerged only now? It is a great question.

Previously, research has been conducted on how to provide astronauts’ safety. But only now it has reached such dimensions. And that all happened thanks to…Mars.

We are intending to travel to the red planet and beyond very soon. But we need to be prepared for any kind of difficulties the astronauts might experience.

The main challenge for this investigation is that limited data is available from actual space. That is why we are performing the majority of experiments on Earth. Analogs are special facilities that specialists have built to imitate space conditions. We can find some of them even in Antarctica and the Arizona’s Meteor Crater! These are the places from which an impressive amount of data is collected.

The other important and exciting part of the Human Research Program’s mission – is to educate the public. And that is amazing, how space exploration has become the concern of every single one of us.

NASA’s Twins Study

A part of the Human Research Program is the Twins Study. The main aim is to evaluate the characteristics of two identical twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly.

Being twins, these astronauts have the similar genetics. But they were living in different environments for one year. During this period Scott Kelly was in space, while his brother stayed on our planet. What changes happened to Scott in comparison to Mark?

That is the question the study wants to answer.

The ultimate goal of the investigation is to provide safer conditions during space journeys for humans. We need data of all the genetic, microbiological, physical, and psychological changes that occur in space.

So, what is the primary data we have? Scott Kelly faced outer space stresses. He was on a strict diet and followed a prescript daily regime.

Mark Kelly is a former astronaut. He was leading a normal life back on Earth. The scientists focused on the molecular level changes. These differences can become the reason for behavioural changes.

As well as for the development of different diseases and, perhaps, some other mysterious things that the researchers will have a chance to come across later.

Scott had returned home quite a while ago, in March 2016. He spent almost a year living on the International Space Station. The first results of the Twins Study were announced on the week of January 23. Let’s have a look at some of them.

  • Scott had a higher level of a panel of lipids. It is a sign of inflammation. But the chances are high that this was a process that occurred right after landing, due to high stress.
  • RNA sequencing revealed more than 200,000 molecules that were different between the twins. Will we be able to find the peculiar ‘space gene’ that could have been activated in Scott’s body?
  • There is a sign of a variation in the amount of chemicals in the DNA. This can help us find the most sensitive genes, to focus on their ‘training’ in the future.
  • Of course, there was a decline in the astronaut’s bone formation. Especially, during the second part of his journey. Bone and muscle health remains one of the main focuses, as it seems to be influenced the most.
  • A fascinating investigation was the one about telomeres. These things are the ends of our chromosomes. Telomeres tend to become shorter as we get older. But during this one year in space Scott’s telomeres in his white blood cells…increased in length.
  • After Scott’s return to Earth, most of these changes have gotten back to normal again. Even the telomeres became shorter. But the investigations continue.

Later in 2017, we will have access to a fuller analysis of the experiment. Even the data that seem to change upon the astronaut’s return is important. After all, the humanity is aiming to send people to settle on Mars, without a come back to Earth following.

Yet there are a few uncertainties left about the project. For example, was it right to choose a pair of identical twins that are both astronauts? Wouldn’t the data have been more accurate, if one of them remained on Earth for his whole life?

Will all the investigation results be open to the public? The twins examine the information before the publication. And they have full rights not to share the data if it seems too sensitive.

Health Risks in Space

The majority of health effects in space can be blamed on the weightlessness. Our Earth is famous for its gravitational field, that gets lost the further in space you go.

Our body developed its current form throughout the whole evolution process. We are developing all our features for millions of years. We evolved under the forces of gravity. We can’t even imagine living without it even for a few minutes, let alone for a year!

That’s why astronauts undergo years of training. But we still have no idea of how our body will transform in outer space if we stay there for longer periods of time.

Most of what we now know, we learned from short missions. And that is what kind of information NASA is trying to gather. In long-duration space journeys, the following health issues may arise,

  • Loss of bone mineral density, skeletal muscle, and hydrostatic pressure.
  • Changes in pulmonary circulation and gas exchange. The decrease in absorption or malabsorption.
  • Motion sickness, disturbed fine motor, and gross motor functions.
  • Sleep deprivation and potential immunologic depression.
  • Moreover, the majority of astronauts seems to suffer from different problems with their eyes and vision.

That is why NASA has been looking for volunteers for ‘the bed rest studies‘. This experiment is part of the Human Research Program. Volunteers have to spend more than 2 months in bed. Sounds like a dream come true?

Not quite.

The poor lads must eat and even shower in a head-down position! Scientists are monitoring the volunteers’ body changes to get the idea of how our body reacts to the space environment. The main target of studies is the optic nerve and eyes in general.

Oh, and we have forgotten about one of the main types of disorders. The psychological ones. The whole idea of spending time traveling through space seems exciting and romantic.

But that is until your term actually begins. Living in isolation under constant control. The strict regime and diet and, by the way, the whole mankind are counting on you. All these things can make you go insane or fall into depression.

And then you realize that you will not be able to leave because you simply have nowhere to go…

The diseases and body malfunctions mentioned are only a part of the impressive list of things that can happen to our body during space missions.

By the way, we have absolutely no idea of how the process of birth will occur on Mars, for example…

And that is great.

Great that the humankind has difficulties that it needs to overcome. Because that means that we will continue moving forward. To satisfy our eternal curiosity and our hunger for exploration.

What do you think our next step should be?

Featured Image Credit: NASA

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