back to article Yay, you lose weight and get rad hardened in space! Nay, your genes go awry and your brain slows down when you return to Earth!

Spending your days floating in space may give you a nice break from Earth, but be warned, your body might not fully recover when you decide to come back down. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly found this out the hard way when he circled the International Space Station (ISS) for 340 days. Kelly is among the group of 559 people who …

  1. Unicornpiss

    Very cool, but..

    One set of twins is not a big enough sample set to conclusively prove all of these effects. Some of the damage may also be from the ordeal of readjusting to a full G after nearly a year of micro gravity, which I think may be even more damaging on the body than the radiation dose. And cognitive tests can be influenced by many things, including just having an off day or being slightly depressed or distracted.

    Beer icon, because perhaps his cognitive deficiencies compared to his twin can be explained by missing out on his daily pint.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Very cool, but.. Twins in Spaaaaace!

      I'm sure NASA would love to have a larger test set, but unless they can recruit and train more twins, they'll have to make do.

      The genetic changes are interesting because there's been a lot of research into the effects of radiation exposure, which is obviously a hot topic if we want to stick a base on the Moon or Mars. There's a theory of radiation hormesis that speculates that exposure to radiation can be beneficial, but that's rather controversial.. And possibly something being studied in Colorado. That has a combination of altitude and relatively high background radiation. I think this is interesting because it seems to suggest the body can adapt, but might be some downsides once removed from exposure.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Very cool, but.. Twins in Spaaaaace!

        I think it's more likely to simply be epigenetic changes, that is switches that control gene activation changing due to the change in environment, rather than changes in the genes themselves. Put another way, a lot of our genes are capable of being switched on or off, or between high gear and low gear, and suchlike.

        ISTR that there was evidence after WW2 that children born to mothers in the Netherlands after WW2 tended to be on the short side even though their mothers diet (near starvation level, towards the end of WW2) was now adequate. This is thought be be because shortage of food signals the body to go into high efficiency mode when consuming foo , and that may also then switch genes affecting height to go into "select for smaller" mode for some while. Mother then has children with the small size settings still in force, who inherit her epigenetic settings and bingo - shorter children, even though nothing genetically has changed. However, it's only relatively recently that we've had the technology to reasonably easily look into genetics in fine detail, and so the study of epigenetics is still very much in its infancy., so far as I'm aware.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Very cool, but..

      To have proper controls you'd want the Earth bound twin living in isolation somewhere with recycled air, eating the same foods, etc. to try to minimize the differences to microgravity and radiation.

      I shouldn't think NASA would have much difficulty recruiting twins for this, just make them both sign a contract agreeing to the Earthbound isolation if they lose the coin toss and don't get to go to space. It isn't like the requirements for going to space are THAT major, you don't need to be a "real" astronaut like in the Apollo days when they were pretty much limited to former test pilots. Just being a scientist in a discipline useful to studies conducted on the space station able to pass the mental and physical tests would allow you to contribute while you're there.

      I mean, if Howard Wolowitz can do it anyone can :)

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Very cool, but..

        "It isn't like the requirements for going to space are THAT major, you don't need to be a "real" astronaut like in the Apollo days when they were pretty much limited to former test pilots. "

        The reason for using test pilots back in those days was that they were considered to be expendable monkeys (only one step above the simians actually used for the first few shots) with demonstrated abiliity to endure high physical loads (the fact that test pilots can handle high mental loads wasn't considered). None of them would make the grade these days - A PhD is pretty much mandatory and the physical requirements were quickly proven to be overhyped.

        The expense is so high(*) that qualification requirements are through the roof. If that comes down then perhaps the requirements will too.

        (*) It's only partially driven by launcher costs. The bulk of costs for anything flown stays firmly on terra firma in the form of hundreds (if not thousands) of test models built to ensure that what's flown, works. If launcher costs come down to the point that relaunch is relatively cheap then the number of test models might come down and thus the flight model final cost, but coming down from $100,000/kg to $10,000/kg to orbit is not going to see a similar tenfold reduction in the payload price for life-support capable orbital kit nor will reductions from $10k/kg down to $1k/kg.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Very cool, but..

          "The reason for using test pilots back in those days was that they were considered to be expendable monkeys"

          Expendable possibly, but certainly not monkeys. The selection process for the Mercury 7 was looking for candidates with a bachelor's degree or better. When they landed on the moon, Neil Armstrong had a Master's degree, and Buzz Aldrin had a doctorate (he wrote his thesis on "Line-of-Sight Guidance Techniques for Manned Orbital Rendezvous", which obviously came in handy).

          Test pilots in those days were expected to be engineers as well as pilots, especially in the more cutting edge programs like the X-15, which several astronauts were selected from.

          1. Tikimon

            Re: Very cool, but..

            NOT Expendable, test pilots are instead the BEST you can find and highly educated. Don't assume "high risk job" means "expendable".

            The most important thing for test pilots is the ability to react quickly to the unexpected. New vehicles can do some weird and surprising things. A test pilot might only have a few seconds to react to a problem before it kills him. That's when the engineering degree, thousands of hours of flight experience in several aircraft types, and a steely disposition work together to figure out how to survive... and maybe even bring the plane back intact. Hardly the job for an "expendable monkey".

            Any test flight also has one or more other test pilots as "chase pilots" following along in other aircraft. If something goes wrong with the test flight, the chase pilots can observe from outside, offer advice, or in some cases talk a blinded pilot down to a safe landing. Chuck Yeager was one of the best test pilots ever and as chase pilot saved many another pilot's life.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: Very cool, but..

              Test pilots are the right kind of nuts. Hey, we have this brand new, inherently unstable aircraft.. See what happens when it stalls! So intentionally doing weird and suprising things to aircraft to find their limits, and help write the procedure manuals. So ideal for lobbing into space because they're already trained and experienced to expect the unexpected.

              Which I guess may also be a flaw with this kind of study, ie your population base is already usually very fit, healthy and high cognitive ability. Average people don't get to go into space, unless they happen to also be wealthy enough to be space tourists. But then they still have to pass flight medicals. Which also got me thinking about using twins in studies. Presumably every astronaut gets a battery of before/after testing to compare, and should show similar results as this study. And I guess for the future, it could be interesting to see if there's beneficial effects for unhealthy people.

  2. redpawn

    I'll limit my time

    in space to 339 days to avoid these problems.

  3. Nick Kew

    Causes and effects

    Heard this story on t'wireless yesterday. The first commentator on attributed the changes to weightlessness. Whereupon my "shout at the radio" reaction was that other things are not equal, and surely being cooped up in a confined space is a very big effect. What happens physically to a body cooped up in a prison, an ocean-going ship, or - rather topically - an embassy?

    Perhaps submariners would be a good control sample: like astronauts they're presumably selected for physical and mental robustness?

    1. JetSetJim

      Re: Causes and effects

      They should have such the other twin on the same diet, and kept them in a ground based much up if the ISS to compensate as best they could to those variables to try and isolate what is attributable to space Vs other environmental factors

      1. JetSetJim

        Re: Causes and effects

        Didn't notice the miscellaneous auto corrects made by my phone. This reads horribly!

        Meant to say that they should have kept the ground based twin in the same circumstances as the space based one to help isolate what is caused by being in space vs being on earth

  4. Conundrum1885

    We demand

    That someone ask the Ecuadoreans nicely for some samples, ideally by date so a study can be done.

    Science already!

    Also incidentally it appears that lack of gravity does cause some problems, a long duration space mission

    may be able to mitigate this by using centrifugal chambers or (more likely) accelerating half the way and

    decelerating the other half at some fraction of a G.

    It seems that most symptoms occur because gravity messes up cell division, though for 9 months of

    early life floating in water does imitate low gravity it is still present to some extent.

  5. hatti

    Longer preferable

    Shorter telomeres are the bain of my life

  6. Blockchain commentard

    Surely the other twin should be now sent up for 300 odd days and get them tested again. If the changes were due to space, they should now be the same.

  7. chivo243 Silver badge

    OK, I'll ask

    What about Mr. Johnson and his rollers?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I ordered a remainder copy of his book for C$8.69 (=£5). It arrived and I discovered it to be signed by the author.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Changes in DNA and exposure to radiation. According to all the material I've read on the subject, there can only be one effect - development of superpowers.

  10. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The ISS has reportedly developed an extensive microflora of its own. Perhaps changes in gut bacteria might include species acquired from there.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...found this out the hard way when he circled the International Space Station (ISS) for 340 days"

    Why? Wouldn't they let him in?

    If that had been me, I'd probably have given up and gone home much sooner than that! :-)

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: "...found this out the hard way when he circled the ISS for 340 days"

      After producing some exceptionally smelly faeces to test, they decided that for the sake of the rest of the crew, Scott would have to spend the rest of the trip on the other side of the airlock.

      In space nobody can hear you say 'I'd give it 10 minutes if I were you'.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am going to wait until we hear from an actual space resident...

    Where is A Man From Mars?

  13. Simon Harris

    Space Poo.

    Did they compare the potato growing properties of space poo vs earth poo?

    AManFromMars should be told.

    1. chromechronicle

      Re: Space Poo.

      Is there shite on Mars?

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