Exploring the final frontier: Disease proposed as major barrier to Mars and beyond

Oct 29, 2009

A new report appearing in The Journal of Leukocyte Biology argues that human missions to Mars, as well as all other long-term space flights might be compromised by microbial hitchhikers, such as bacteria.

That's because long-term space travel packs a one-two punch to astronauts: first it appears to weaken their immune systems; and second, it increases the virulence and growth of microbes. This combination of factors makes it vital for scientists to find tools that can help people cope with these microscopic hitchhikers before they lead to disease, especially since astronauts will not have the ability to return home to a hospital.

"When people think of space travel, often the vast distances are what come to mind first," said Jean-Pol Frippiat, one of the report's co-authors from Nancy-University in France, "but even after we figure out a way to cover these distances in a reasonable amount of time, we still need to figure out how astronauts are going to overcome disease and sickness."

Frippiat and colleagues based their conclusions on studies showing that immune systems of both people and animals in space flight conditions are significantly weaker than their grounded counterparts. They also reviewed studies that examined the effects of space flight conditions and altered gravity on virulence and growth of common pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and . These studies show that these bacteria reproduce more rapidly in conditions, leading to increased risk of contamination, colonization and serious infection.

"As clearly outlined by the researchers, we are unlikely to remain healthy when leaving earth for prolonged periods," said Luis Montaner, Editor-in-Chief of The . "Unfortunately, because spacecraft technology is way ahead of our understanding of how to maintain human health, disease-free survival after reaching or establishing a colony on the Moon may be problematic."

More information: Nathan Guéguinou, Cécile Huin-Schohn, Matthieu Bascove, Jean-Luc Bueb, Eric Tschirhart, Christine Legrand-Frossi, and Jean-Pol Frippiat. Could spaceflight-associated weakening preclude the expansion of human presence beyond Earth's orbit? doi:10.1189/jlb.0309167

Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (news : web)

Explore further: China to send orbiter to moon and back

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Microscopic passengers to hitch ride on space shuttle

Aug 24, 2006

When space shuttle Atlantis rockets into space later this week, it will take along three kinds of microbes so scientists can study how their genetic responses and their ability to cause disease change.

Microscopic 'astronauts' to go back in orbit

Mar 10, 2008

When space shuttle Endeavor blasts off on March 11, some tiny ‘astronauts’ will piggyback onboard an experimental payload from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute.

NASA mission sends germs into space

May 05, 2009

Millions of microbe astronauts will travel into space Tuesday aboard a NASA satellite. These germs are part of a mission led by the NASA Ames Research Center at California's Moffett Field to study how floating in space alters ...

Recommended for you

China to send orbiter to moon and back

3 hours ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

13 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

17 hours ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

20 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

20 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gunslingor1
1 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2009
Gee, I wonder how much they spent on that study. Seems fairly obvious and repretitive considering that NASA already uses clean rooms and decontamination prior to flight for even short trips.
dirk_bruere
4 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2009
Better cancel all those expeditions based on years at sea in simple wooden sailing ships. Wait a sec... too late!