Mars Astronauts May Require Kidney Dialysis On Return

A new study by experts from institutions, including University College London (UCL), suggests that a round trip to Mars could severely affect astronauts’ kidneys. Although space is one of the most unfavorable places for people to live, space organizations and commercial businesses are committed to sending people on lengthy missions, such as a trip to Mars.

According to the recent study, astronauts’ kidneys may suffer grave consequences during a round-trip to Mars, according to specialists at Universities College London (UCL) among other institutions. Dr. Keith Siew, the study’s first author from the London Tubular Centre at UCL, warned, “If we don’t develop new ways to protect the kidneys, I’d say that while an astronaut could make it to Mars, they might need dialysis on the way back. We know that the kidneys are late to show signs of radiation damage; by the time this becomes apparent, it’s probably too late to prevent failure, which would be catastrophic for the mission’s chances of success.”

The planet’s magnetic field shields humans from dangerous space radiation here on Earth. Unfortunately, space radiation, such as solar winds and galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), is too intense for the human body to withstand over time. In addition to raising the danger of kidney stones and other health problems, the study suggests that GCR may change the structure and function of the kidneys, possibly resulting in “permanent damage” during lengthy trips to Mars.

To draw these conclusions, the research team studied the consequences of prolonged spaceflight on kidney function. This required data and samples from 20 research organizations, collected from more than 40 space missions to the International Space Station and commercial flights to Low Earth orbit involving humans and mice. The analyses included biomolecular, physiological, and anatomical studies. Furthermore, eleven space simulations involving rats and mice were carried out, seven exposing the mice to GCR dosages corresponding to what would be expected from Mars missions lasting 1.5 and 2.5 years.

The study indicated that space conditions “remodeled” human and animal kidneys. Dr. Siew noted that after less than a month in space, some kidney tubules began to shrink, impacting their role in calcium and salt balance. This shrinkage was primarily attributed to microgravity rather than GCR. However, space flight also affects kidney salt processing, a critical factor in kidney stone formation.

Alarmingly, mice subjected to simulated GCR for 2.5 years developed irreversible kidney damage and functional loss, suggesting that astronauts may face severe kidney hazards during a three-year Mars mission. Understanding these biological risks is crucial for developing protective measures. As Stephen B. Walsh, the study’s senior author, explained, “You can’t protect them from galactic radiation using shielding, but as we learn more about renal biology, it may be possible to develop technological or pharmaceutical measures to facilitate extended space travel.”

Walsh additionally pointed out possible Earth advantages, adding, “Any drugs developed for astronauts may also be beneficial here on Earth, for example, by enabling cancer patients’ kidneys to tolerate higher doses of radiotherapy, the kidneys being one of the limiting factors in this regard.”

This groundbreaking study, published in Nature Communications, represents a major advancement in our understanding of the difficulties associated with extended space travel and the preparations required to protect astronaut health and mission success.

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