Today's Post:

Deep space travel linked to heart disease

Researchers are studying the impact of space travel.
Researchers are studying the impact of space travel.
Image: NASA.
Neil Armstrong was a rock star of the Space Age, a naval aviator who became an astronaut and the first person to walk on the moon. But he was also among the Apollo astronauts to die of cardiovascular illness.

    Higher rates of cardiovascular disease found in Apollo astronauts may be caused by exposure to deep space radiation, according to a study in Scientific Reports.
    The Apollo program pushed into space with 11 manned flights between 1968 and 1972. Most significantly, on July 20, 1969, Armstrong was the first man on the moon. In all, nine missions extended beyond Earth's orbit. The troubled Apollo 13 mission circled the moon, and in so doing, traveled farther from Earth than any other flight.
    During the Apollo missions, 24 men flew into deep space. Researchers studied records involved in the deaths of seven. An eighth astronaut passed away after the study’s completion.
    The study found that 43 percent of deceased Apollo astronauts died from a cardiovascular illness -- a figure four to five times higher than nonflight astronauts and astronauts who have traveled in low Earth orbit, according to the study, led by Michael D. Delp, Florida State University's dean of the College of Human Sciences.     
    Researchers also found that mice developed cardiovascular issues after six months (the equivalent of 20 human years) of exposure to the same type of radiation as the Apollo astronauts faced. Neil Armstrong was 82 when he died in 2012. Another Apollo astronaut, Ronald Evans, was 56 when he suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep in 1990, according to an obituary in The New York Times. One year later, James Irwin, 61, also a former Apollo astronaut, died of a heart attack.  
    The study comes at a time of increasing interest in deep-space travel. In the U.S., NASA is preparing for a manned mission to Mars and has plans to send astronauts to orbit the moon between 2020 and 2030. The European Space Agency, Russia and China also are considering lunar missions.


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