A Dozen New NASA Astronauts and DNA Changes Chosen in 2017
Is DNA an Answer to Mars Exploration?
The costs and potential outcomes of America's Mission to Mars have been the center of heated debate for a decade.
One drawback is that the human body cannot survive in sub-Earth gravity and artificial gravity is not yet available.
As a solution, scientists are studying possible changes to human DNA. To this end, researchers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright State University human performance laboratories are conducting long-term studies.
Since the late 1970s, Wright State researchers have been developing methods of repairing severed spinal cords. This research shows that in states of low gravity and in the complete absence of gravity, leg paralysis not a problem. The work has also shown how an exoskeleton can enable leg movement while implanted electrodes become functional.
Related studies look at bone and muscle composition and possible changes that can be made for life in space, making DNA manipulation a possible solution for human survival on other planets and in prolonged low-Earth orbit.
Should we want to go there (Mars), and decide who is best suited to do so, a great deal more work needs to be done not only in jet propulsion but in human genetics.— Harvard Medical School; March 27, 2014
DNA Already Changes in Space
American twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly have experienced several hundred DNA mutations each. What physical consequences that all of these mutations may have in the future for these two men is unknown at this time.
Data was gathered in a controlled study that compared the physical condition of Mark, who remained on Earth for a year, with that of Scott, who worked on the International Space Station for a year. A large number of measures were taken before and after the one-year period for each man for comparison.
The collected data suggest that aging might reverse in space to some extent. This is because strands of genetic material called "telomeres" at the ends of chromosomes lengthen in space, at least in that white blood cells that were specifically examined.
On Earth, telomeres on all chromosomes shorten every time a cell replaces itself and this process is one of the events that causes aging. Notice how telomeres shorten in the image below.
Scientists are examining the possibility of changing human DNA before explorers and colonists go into space, in order to help them tolerate adverse environmental conditions. Slowing the aging process or keeping white blood cells that fight disease "younger" and healthier may become part of that project.
Astronaut Scott Kelly's telomeres on the ends of his chromosomes in his white blood cells lengthened while in space. Researchers said it could be attributed to increased exercise and his reduced calorie intake during flight. The telomeres shortened when he returned. Telomeres typically decrease in length as a person ages.— St. Louis Post-Dispatch; February 1, 2017
A Few Possible Genetic Improvements for Astronauts on Mars
Reduce blood volume
Solves the dilemma that Mars's gravity is 38% of Earth's. Our bodies would think we have too much blood and our heads would swell.
Match circadian rhythm to Mars environment
Will solve the problem that prolonged time in outer space reduces the ability to sleep.
Make skin less porous
Will reduce dehydration and sensitivity to extreme heat and cold.
Apply nanotechnology to change oxygen obsorption
Will help humans absorb oxygen from low-oxygen atmospheres.
Strengthen bone density
Will counteract gravity-based loss of bone and teeth on Mars.
Are the New Astronauts Human?
Thus far, we believe all twelve space travelers to be 100% human, and no DNA changes have been performed on them. Half of them are US military members and the other half are civilians, while seven are men and five are women, making this an interesting mix of test pilots, engineers, and scientists.
The 2013 class of eight astronauts were four men and four women, with four physicians among them. However, they were all scientists.
The 2017 space explorers include two combat veterans, handy since Japan and the USA have a combined space force to monitor the skies beginning in 2018-2019.
Also among the flyers are two physicians, a professor at MIT, a submariner, another expert on submersible vehicles, a SpaceX engineer, a research biologist who is likely to study alien life, and a planetary geologist to examine Mars landscapes. We will likely have our first Mars geography book soon.
Why do so many of the newest class have expertise in marine sciences? -- Exploring space is much like exploring the undersea world on Earth.
The Military Members, Including Combat Veterans
- USMC Major Jasmin Moghbeli has advanced degrees in aerospace engineering and information technology with certification a Navy test pilot. She is a perfect candidate for flying in near-Earth orbit and into deep space.
- US Navy Lieutenant Jonny Kim: This doctor is a combat Navy Seal with medals a degree in mathematics. Survival and medical skills are vital in space.
- US Army Major Francisco Rubio. Dr. Rubio, a surgeon with combat experience, graduated from West Point and certification as a helicopter pilot.
- US Navy Lt. Commander Matthew Dominick is an electrical and systems engineer, test pilot, and head of a squadron of fighters.
- US Navy Lieutenant Kayla Barron. A systems and nuclear engineer, this woman was in the first group of females in submarine duty, as a warfare commander.
- US Air Force Lt. Colonel Raja Chari is an astronautical engineer, engineering scientist, and a supervising Navy test pilot.
The Civilian Members
- Zena Cardman has advanced degrees in biology and marine sciences, working in undersea caves in Antarctic missions and other aerospace-analog expeditions.
- Bob Hines is an aerospace engineer, test pilot, and research pilot. He is likely to help develop spacecraft and adaptations for the human body.
- Warren Hoburg: Professor Hoburg has advanced degrees in aeronautics, astronautics, electrical engineering, and computer science. A licensed pilot, he is experienced in search and rescue.
- Robb Kulin is an Alaskan is from SpaceX company with extensive experience working on glaciers and Antarctic ice sheets as well as on spacecraft design.
- Loral O’Hara has trained in low gravity space programs and has degrees in aerospace engineering, aeronautics, and astronautics.
- Jessica Watkins has already worked on the Mars project in rover development with degrees in geological and environmental sciences and geology.
Astronaut Skills Survey
Which qualifications will be most important on Mars?
The 2017 White House intends to reactivate the National Space Council.— Vice President Mike Pence, June 7, 2017
US Vice President Mike Pence is the chairman of the reactivated National Space Council, which gathers the best data in academia and aerospace business through the work of the US military and civilian members.
Aerospace business members include the nearly 100 members of NASA's Commercial Crew partnerships. The State of Ohio is excited by this development, since it supports over 1,200 aerospace businesses and an official Space Business Corridor.
Space industries are growing across America and new classes of astronauts will be added in the future.
- Blogger "lenrosen4". 21st Century Tech. What Mars One Needs is Genetically Altered Human Colonists. April 11, 2014. 21stcentech.com/mars-genetically-altered-human-colonists/ Retrieved June 4, 2017.
- Harvard Medical School. Genes and Galaxies. March 27, 2014. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/genetics/genes-and-galaxies-3-27-14 Retrieved June 6, 2017.
- NASA Human Research Program. Twins Study. www.nasa.gov/twins-study Retrieved June 14, 2017.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Space travel changes DNA, study finds. Feb. 1, 2017. www.stltoday.com/news/space-travel-changes-dna-study-finds/article_fcd4a828-f963-5dd7-ad27-66830224211a.html Retrieved June 6, 2017.
- USAF Civil Air Patrol newsletters, July 2017.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Patty Inglish MS