Being an astronaut is a dream that strikes every young man, and many young women at some point in their lives. While these individuals are regarded as heroes and pioneers, they also suffer from a range of unusual maladies that are curiously specific to their job. The University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance has taken an interest in the illnesses that seem to strike astronauts and have begun a study to determine why it is those that undergo space flight get sick.
To find out why it is that space flight seems to be so hard on the immune system of astronauts, the University of Houston will be studying those that are going to spend time on the International Space Station. They will be collecting a full range of samples from each individual scheduled to go onto the space station, including blood, urine, and saliva.
Samples will be taken before, during, and after the mission so that the immune response of each person can be measured against itself showing the full spectrum of the effects of spaceflight and living without gravity.
“All of us have viruses that we’re already infected with, and our immune system does a very good job of controlling them,” said Rickie Simpson who is an assistant professor of exercise and immunology at the University of Houston and acting as principle investigator in this study. “When astronauts are in space, those viruses reactivate a lot. What we don’t know is if altered immunity and viral reactivation pose a significant risk to the health of astronauts when they’re in space for a prolonged period of time.”
The hope is to understand the unusual stressors that astronauts undergo so that the effects of stress on the immune system can be measured in people who have similar high-stress jobs such as soldiers and paramedics.
This is highly important right now as the Mars One mission has just begun accepting applicants. They will be attempting to begin the first human colonization of Mars, and it would be tragic to have latent viruses kill off their entire colonization team during the journey.
The samples will be taken 180 days before launch, and again 60 days before the astronauts blast off. They will take several samples themselves while aboard the space station and be tested at similar intervals upon their return to Earth.
The study is expected to take years before concrete results can be determined.