NASA Astrobiology Researchers Identify Features That Could Be Used to Detect Life-Friendly Climates on Other Worlds Scientists may have found a way to tell if alien worlds have a climate that is suitable for life by analyzing the light from these worlds for special signatures that are characteristic of a life-friendly environment. Source: Nasa Solar System and Beyond News http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/goddard/2019/m-star-habitability
Shrinking Moon May Be Generating Moonquakes The Moon is shrinking as its interior cools, causing the brittle surface crust to break as the Moon shrinks, forming faults where one section of crust is pushed up over a neighboring part. A new analysis gives the first evidence that these faults are still active and likely producing moonquakes today. Source: Nasa Solar System and Beyond News http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/goddard/2019/moonquakes
NASA’s InSight Lander Captures Audio of First Likely ‘Quake’ on Mars NASA’s Mars InSight lander has measured and recorded for the first time ever a likely “marsquake.” Source: Nasa Solar System and Beyond News http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-insight-lander-captures-audio-of-first-likely-quake-on-mars
Meteoroid Strikes Eject Precious Water From Moon Streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infuse the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor, according to researchers using data from NASA’s LADEE spacecraft. The findings will help scientists understand the history of lunar water. Source: Nasa Solar System and Beyond News http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/goddard/2019/ladee-lunar-water
Does a year in space make you older or younger?
Daily life aboard the International Space Station moves fast. Really fast. Traveling at approximately 17,000 miles per hour, 300 miles above the Earth, astronauts watch 16 sunrises and sunsets every “day” while floating around in a box with a handful of people they depend on for survival.
One need look no further than Hollywood blockbusters like “The Martian,” “Gravity” and “Interstellar” for futuristic visions of life beyond Earth as we venture longer and deeper into outer space. But what about the human body’s response to real-life spaceflight – what are the health effects? Will space travelers age at different rates than those of us on Earth? Just how adaptable to the space environment are we?
Certainly these are concerns for NASA. How space travel and long-duration missions might change the human body, and whether those changes are permanent or reversible once astronauts return to Earth, is largely unknown. The opportunity to explore these intriguing questions arose with identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly.
In November of 2012, NASA selected astronaut Scott Kelly for its first one-year mission. At a press conference not long thereafter, it was Scott who hinted that that this mission might provide the chance to compare the impact of space living on his body with his Earth-dwelling identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who had also been an astronaut and former Navy test pilot. Remarkably, the Kelly twins were individuals of similar “nature (genetics) and nurture (environment),” and so the perfect space experiment was conceived – featuring “space twin and Earth twin” as the stars. Scott would spend a year in space aboard the International Space Station, while his identical twin brother, Mark, would remain on Earth.
The NASA TWINS Study represents the most comprehensive view of the human body’s response to space flight ever conducted. Results will guide future studies and personalized approaches for evaluating health effects of individual astronauts for years to come.
As a cancer biologist at Colorado State University I study the impact of radiation exposure on human cells. As part of the TWINS Study, I was particularly interested in evaluating how the ends of the chromosomes, called telomeres, were altered by a year in space.
Teasing apart health effects of space living
NASA put out a call and selected 10 peer-reviewed investigations from around the country for the TWINS Study. Studies included molecular, physiological and behavioral measures, and for the first time ever in astronauts, “omics”-based studies. Some teams evaluated the impact of space on the genome – the entire complement of DNA in a cell (genomics). Other teams examined which genes were turned on and producing a molecule called mRNA (transcriptomics). Some studies focused on how chemical modifications – which do not alter the DNA code – affected the regulation of the genes (epigenomics). Some researchers explored the proteins produced in the cells (proteomics), whereas others scrutinized the products of metabolism (metabolomics).
There were also studies examining how the space environment might alter the microbiome – the collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in and on our bodies. One investigation examined the immune response to the flu vaccine. Other teams searched Scott’s biological samples for biomarkers of atherosclerosis and upward fluid shifts in the body due to microgravity, which can affect vision and cause headaches. Cognitive performance was also evaluated using computer-run cognition tests specifically designed for astronauts.
More than 300 biological samples – stool, urine and blood – were collected from the twins at multiple times before, during and after the one year mission.
The Kelly twins are without a doubt one of the most profiled pairs – on or off our planet. They are also one of the most interviewed. One question often asked is whether Scott will return from space younger than Mark – a situation reminiscent of “Interstellar” or Einstein’s so-called “Twin Paradox.” However, because the ISS is not traveling anywhere near the speed of light relative to us, time dilation – or the slowing of time due to motion – is very minimal. So any age difference between the brothers would only be a few milliseconds.
Even so, the question of spaceflight-associated aging and the accompanying risk of developing age-related diseases like dementia, cardiovascular disease and cancer – during or after a mission – is an important one, and one that we aimed to address directly with our study of telomere length.
Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes that protect them from damage and from “fraying” – much like the end of a shoestring. Telomeres are critical for maintaining chromosome and genome stability. However, telomeres naturally shorten as our cells divide, and so also as we age. The rate at which telomeres shorten over time is influenced by many factors, including oxidative stress and inflammation, nutrition, physical activity, psychological stresses and environmental exposures like air pollution, UV rays and ionizing radiation. Thus, telomere length reflects an individual’s genetics, experiences and exposures, and so are informative indicators of general health and aging.
Telomeres and aging
Our study proposed that the unique stresses and out-of-this-world exposures the astronauts experience during spaceflight – things like isolation, microgravity, high carbon dioxide levels and galactic cosmic rays – would accelerate telomere shortening and aging. To test this, we evaluated telomere length in blood samples received from both twins before, during and after the one year mission.
Scott and Mark started the study with relatively similar telomere lengths, which is consistent with a strong genetic component. Also as expected, the length of Earth-bound Mark’s telomeres was relatively stable over the course of the study. But much to our surprise, Scott’s telomeres were significantly longer at every time point and in every sample tested during spaceflight. That was exactly the opposite of what we expected.
Furthermore, upon Scott’s return to Earth, telomere length shortened rapidly, then stabilized during the following months to near pre-flight averages. However, from the perspective of aging and risk of disease, he had many more short telomeres after spaceflight than he did before. Our challenge now is to figure out how and why such spaceflight specific shifts in telomere length dynamics are occurring.
Our findings will have relevance to earthlings as well, since we all grow old and develop age-related conditions. These TWINS Study results may provide new clues into the processes involved, and thereby improve our understanding of what we might do to avoid them or extend health span.
The long-term health effects of long duration spaceflight are yet to be determined, but the TWINS Study represents a landmark step in humankind’s journey to the moon, Mars and beyond…and to making science fiction science fact.
How NASA is Changing the world for the better
Since 1976, Spinoff has annually profiled an average of 50 commercial technologies with origins in NASA missions and research. Issues of Spinoff published since 1996 can be read online in HTML or downloaded in PDF. Scanned copies of Spinoff are available in PDF for issues published between 1976 and 1995.
The publication provides nearly 50 examples of how NASA benefits various industries and people around the world. For example, fitness enthusiasts may be surprised to learn about NASA’s contribution to the Bowflex Revolution resistance-exercise home gym. Other highlights include a crucial component of pacemakers that have helped save lives around the world, as well as reactors that use electricity-“breathing” bacteria to clean wastewater and generate power at wineries and breweries.
“The variety and complexity of NASA’s missions drive innovations in virtually every field of technology,” said Daniel Lockney, executive of NASA’s Technology Transfer program. “The result is that there’s not an industry or business out there that can’t make use of our groundbreaking work.”
The publication also includes a “Spinoffs of Tomorrow” section that showcases 20 new NASA technologies available for license. One innovation on the list uses new materials to literally reinvent the wheel. The superelastic tires were inspired by the Apollo era and developed for future exploration of the Moon and Mars. The technology could find another purpose on Earth.
Spinoff is part of the agency’s Technology Transfer program within the Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program is charged with finding the widest possible applications for NASA technology through partnerships and licensing agreements with industry, ensuring that NASA’s investments in its missions and research find additional applications that benefit the nation and the world.
Print and digital versions of the latest issue of Spinoff are available at:
Everybody knows ‘the speed of light’ is fast. The only thing faster is Chuck Norris, who, the legend goes, can turn out the lights and be under the covers before the room gets dark.
But just how fast is light?
And does it always move the exact same speed? Can we use light to transmit data in a way that harnesses its speed as one of the fastest actors in the known universe? There is has always been a dream of teleportation or using wormholes to jump across time and space at warpspeed, but some scientists now believe that such technology may be more feasible than once thought.
And even if we are centuries away from transporting anything meaningful at the speed of light, the idea of lightspeed may soon jump from the realm of Star Wars to something much more tangible.
Read Full article: Could we actually achieve ‘warp Speed’?
With its dark, heavily cratered surface interrupted by tantalizing bright spots, Ceres may not remind you of our home planet Earth at first glance. The dwarf planet, which orbits the Sun in the vast asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is also far smaller than Earth (in both mass and diameter). With its frigid temperature and lack of atmosphere, we’re pretty sure Ceres can’t support life as we know it.
But these two bodies, Ceres and Earth, formed from similar materials in our solar system. And, after combing through thousands of images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres since 2015, scientists have spotted many features on Ceres that look like formations they’ve seen on Earth.
By looking at similar features on different bodies — what scientists call “analogs” — we can learn more about the origins and evolution of these bodies over time. Check out these prominent features of Ceres, and see if you recognize any of their earthly cousins!
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