Deep Space Missions May Take a Toll on Astronauts' Hearts

One group of scientists has brought attention to a possible side-effect of these deep-space missions to the moon: heart disease.


Only 24 astronauts have ventured past Earth’s protective magnetic field. These were the moon-bound astronauts of the Apollo missions. However, one group of scientists has brought attention to a possible side-effect of these deep-space missions: Heart disease.

A recent study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reported on the troubling relationship. The title says it all: Apollo Lunar Astronauts Show Higher Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: Possible Deep Space Radiation Effects on the Vascular Endothelium. Yes, some Apollo astronauts are dying of heart disease at a higher rate than would be expected, according to the recent study. If true, this health risk could have implications for future deep-space missions to Mars.

The study looked at three distinct groups: seven of the Apollo astronauts (of the 24, 16 are still alive), 35 trained astronauts that have never flown to space, and 35 astronauts who have only flown in low-Earth orbit. The results show a clear difference in heart disease fatalities. “[T]he [cardiovascular] mortality rate among Apollo lunar astronauts (43%) was 4–5 times higher than in non-flight and [low-Earth orbit] astronauts,” the report says.

It should be noted that this study has an extremely small sample size, a fact which lead author Michael Delp at Florida State University is very-much aware. "Certainly, that small sample size is something to keep in mind, but in almost all space studies with humans you're dealing with a small number of individuals," Delp told Popular Mechanics. However, this part of the study has fallen under a fair amount of criticism.

It's important to note that of the eight astronauts who have passed away, only three are known to have died of heart disease: Neil Armstrong; James Irwin, and Ronald Evans. (Edgar Mitchell died in February 2016 in hospice care, but the cause of his death has not been released.)

Still, Delp and his team believe it was the astronauts' exposure to cosmic radiation, which has caused the asserted high mortality rate from heart disease. Why these symptoms only manifest years later? Delp cannot say—no one can really say.

There are known risks going out into deep space. One major issue NASA will have to contend with is getting Mars astronauts safely to the Red Planet without melting their brains. Space does strange things to the human body, like thinning the skin. It’s not entirely certain that we can add heart disease to the list. It will be interesting to see what follow-up studies discover.

Below NASA engineer discusses how the they plan to send astronauts deeper into space, safely:

A UN-style partition plan for 'red' and 'blue' America

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

CNN files lawsuit against Trump administration

The lawsuit claims the administration violated the First Amendment when it revoked the press credentials of reporter Jim Acosta.

(Photo by Al Drago - Pool/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press credentials were revoked following a heated exchange with President Donald Trump on November 8.
  • The network filed a lawsuit against the administration on Tuesday, claiming the administration has violated multiple amendments.
  • The White House may only revoke the press credentials of journalists for "compelling reasons," not for reasons involving content.
Keep reading Show less

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less