Better Astronauts Through Genetic Mutations?

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , ,

If you want to travel safely through space, among other things, you need your body to be shielded from radiation.  The alternative would be to have a body that’s impervious to radiations effects.

Maybe Monsanto is working on genetically modified astronauts (GMA).

From DNA, Daily News and Analysis:

A study has found that exposure to cosmic radiation outside the Earth’s magnetic field could be detrimental to astronauts’ arteries.

The study by University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers used an animal model to assess the affect of iron ion radiation commonly found in outer space to see if exposures promoted the development of atherosclerosis, as terrestrial sources of radiation are known to do.

They observed that cosmic radiation accelerated the development of atherosclerosis, independent of the cholesterol levels or circulating white blood cells of the mice. It also worsened existing atherosclerotic lesions.

Of course, there’s all sorts of other radiation in space as well.  And it is likely to create detrimental effects other than just atherosclerotic lesions.

"But cosmic radiation is very different from X-rays and other radiation found on Earth. The radiation risks of deep-space travel are difficult to predict, largely because so few people have been exposed," he said.

Lead shields can block X-rays, however, cosmic radiation ions can become more dangerous when they interact with metals, generating secondary particles that also may have biological effects.

Hasta la vista space tourism?  Maybe not; the amount of exposure will be quite short.  But for longer travel?

The only people who have been exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation are the 24 astronauts who have been to the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

One theory I’ve heard is that the astronauts’ level of exposure to cosmic radiation was largely suppressed during much of the space-race era due to the mitigating effects of beneficial space weather during those times.  Plus, how long were those guys up there anyway?

Leaving earth for other destinations is still fraught with plenty of risk.  While we often only think of the risk of launch and reentry, the detrimental effects of radiation are certain to be quite profound.

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