Some heart problems are out of this world
For those hankering to travel to the stars, here’s some research to take to heart. A study of 12 astronauts found that extended periods of floating through microgravity actually caused space travelers’ hearts to become more spherical, which could be a sign the heart is not performing efficiently.
“The heart doesn’t work as hard in space, which can cause a loss of muscle mass,” Dr. James Thomas, a NASA scientist and senior author of the study, said in a news release. “That can have serious consequences after the return to Earth, so we’re looking into whether there are measures that can be taken to prevent or counteract that loss.”
He and a team of researchers are investigating what types and amounts of exercise space travelers will need to keep their hearts healthy, especially on longer flights such as a mission to Mars. Those exercises might also prove beneficial for those of us whose feet remain firmly planted on Earth. For example, people who have severe physical limitations—such as those on extended bed rest or with heart failure—might gain from the results. The findings were presented last week during the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session in Washington.
Cosmic tourism hasn’t quite hit the mainstream, but it’s not such a space oddity—especially if you have an astronomical bank account. For example, there’s the Winklevoss twins—who became famous in a legal battle over the creation of Facebook—who in March became the latest to purchase $250,000 tickets from Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company.
If your heart is set on interplanetary sightseeing, you’ll be happy to know that the spherical syndrome is temporary; the organ returns to normal once you’re back on terra firma. But you would need to consider the other side effects—bone loss, vision impairment, drops in blood pressure, arrhythmias, immune system dysfunction and radiation sickness, to name a few.
Something to think about before blastoff.