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New study reveals shocking amounts of bone loss in astronauts

Published Jul 7th, 2022 12:58PM EDT
ISS astronaut in spacesuit
Image: Artsiom P / Adobe

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Getting humans to Mars may be more difficult than NASA originally thought. Not only will we need to develop technology to help humans survive on the Red Planet, but a new study has revealed more details about the insane amount of bone loss astronauts suffer from just six months in space.

Astronauts suffer decades of bone loss while in space

nasa next-generation spacesuits in use on MoonImage source: NASA

We already knew that the lack of gravity in space can have a negative effect on the human body. Now, a new study has given us a deeper look at the effects space can have on human bone structure. According to the study, which researchers published in the journal Scientific Reports, astronauts suffer decades of bone loss on missions that last six months or longer.

Further, the researchers found that the astronauts only recover around half of the reported lost bone after a year of being back on Earth. Ultimately, this leaves the astronauts with at least a decade of bone loss for just six months or so off-planet.

To properly test the rate of bone loss astronauts experience, as well as how they recover, the researchers compared the bones of 17 astronauts. Every astronaut had stayed on the International Space Station for at least four to seven months. The 14 men and three women all had an average age of 47, the researchers say.

They scanned the wrists, ankles, and shins of the astronauts before they traveled to the ISS. Then, upon their return, they were scanned once more. The hope was to see how the time in the ISS’ orbit could affect their bone mass and strength. The bone loss was shocking. Eight of the 14 astronauts continued to show increased bone loss even a year after re-entry.

Cutting the losses

new methods to cut down on astronauts bone loss will be imperative for NASA's mission to MarsImage source: Gorodenkoff

With NASA planning a trip to Mars, finding ways to cut down on the bone loss astronauts experience is paramount. After all, the trip to Mars will see astronauts spending almost three years in space to complete the round trip. That’s almost four times the amount of time that most astronauts spend on the ISS for each mission.

With the current state of deterioration that we’re seeing for astronauts’ bones, those on the Mars trip could return to Earth with crippling bone issues. This could make their bones more prone to breaking or snapping. To help combat the astronaut’s insane bone loss, NASA and others may need to come up with new exercise systems.

Unfortunately, finding an answer to this problem probably isn’t going to be easy. But, it is something we’ll need to overcome if we truly want to make space travel more likely for humankind.

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.