Space travel, it turns out, does more than make us weightless, it can even make the ends of your chromosomes bigger.
The first results of a study delving into the impact space travel has on a person's body were released Monday. Appropriately named the Twins Study, the research looks deep into the effect galaxy travel had on astronaut Scott Kelly compared to his identical twin brother and former astronaut Mark. The brothers shared biological samples before during and after Scott's nearly year-long foray into space last year. The entire time, Mark was earth-bound.
Scott, when he returned to Earth, was a full two inches taller. But the preliminary results went far deeper. Here's what was found:
- Scott's telomeres on the ends of his chromosomes in his white blood cells lengthened while in space. Researchers said it could be attributed to increased exercise and his reduced calorie intake during flight. The telomeres shortened when he returned. Talomeres typically decrease in length as a person ages.
- The study found the level of chemical DNA modification slowed while in space but then returned ot normal when returning to Earth.
- Scott's cognitive abilities in speed and accuracy slowed just slightly after the mission.
- Scott's bone formation slowed during the second half of his trip. Also, there was a spike in inflammation right after landing, which could be because of the stresses of re-entry.
- The study determined a stress hormone was "low normal" throughout the trip but increased over the course of the expedition. The study said the hormone, linked to bone and muscle health, was, "likely impacted by heavy exercise countermeasures during flight."
- Two dominant bacterial groups were more prevalent in Scott when he was in space versus when he was on Earth.