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Gender may determine tolerance to spaceflight, new research suggests

Published Jun 18th, 2024 10:02PM EDT
ISS astronaut in spacesuit
Image: Artsiom P / Adobe

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A new study suggests that gender could play a part in how tolerant your body is to spaceflight. The research, which is featured in Nature Communications, looked at data from 2021’s Inspiration4 mission. Based on that data, the researchers believe that female astronauts may be slightly more tolerant to spaceflight than male astronauts. However, they say more data is needed to confirm their findings.

The research was conducted by the Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA). SOMA also recently published research that showed that just three days in space can cause temporary changes in the human body. This new research, though, looks specifically at the differences in changes based on the sex of the astronaut.

While both sexes returned to baseline quickly, the current data suggests that female astronauts returned to baseline a bit more quickly, the study’s authors write. Study author Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medicine argues that the female body is able to adapt to physical changes more quickly due to its ability to bear children.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins harvests radishes on board the ISS. Image source: NASA

Mason says that perhaps the female body’s ability to adapt to and tolerate large changes in both fluid dynamics and physiology during pregnancy may also help it manage the stress of spaceflight at a physiological level much better than the male body. Of course, more data will be needed to confirm whether this theory is true or not.

That’s because of the hundreds of astronauts that have been to space; less than 100 female astronauts have left Earth’s atmosphere. Meanwhile, more than 600 male astronauts have traveled beyond the protective atmosphere of our planet. Even if the research is confirmed, there are other caveats to keep in mind, another SOMA researcher points out.

According to Susan Bailey, who works with Colorado State University and SOMA, even if women can bounce back faster, their bodies have shown to be more susceptible to some of the radiation-induced cancers that can come when traveling into space. That’s because space is extremely radioactive, and cancers like lung and breast cancer are more likely to develop in women, Bailey notes.

This research is certainly interesting and raises some questions. Perhaps as more female astronauts travel beyond our planet, we’ll be able to conduct more research and find answers. For now, though, we’ll have to be content with our current theories.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.