Microgravity, ‘Exotic’ Space Radiation Could Be Cosmic Culprits Causing Kidney Stones: Study

Astronauts are two to seven times more likely to get kidney stones one year after space flight
Microgravity, ‘Exotic’ Space Radiation Could Be Cosmic Culprits Causing Kidney Stones: Study
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet's surface as NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away. (NASA via Getty Images)
Matt McGregor

Though space travel marks the advancement of mankind, it’s still hard on the body, according to a study that looks at its wear-and-tear on the visceral organs, namely the kidneys.

Nature Communications, the peer-reviewed science journal, published the study titled “Cosmic kidney disease: an integrated panomic, physiological and morphological study into spaceflight-induced renal dysfunction.”

The study, published on June 11, examines the effects of microgravity and galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) on the body using biological data gathered from rodents and humans.

According to the study, analysis samples were taken from 11 mice and five humans exposed to space flight. In addition, samples were taken from one rat exposed to simulated microgravity and four mice exposed to cosmic radiation.

To research whether radiation exposure caused tissue damage leading to “irreversible loss of renal function,” scientists relied on the physiological and anatomical statistics from 20 space flights involving humans and rodents, the study said.

Scientists also analyzed plasma and urinary samples in 66 astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) for up to 180 days.

Scientists on the ISS, which hovers in low earth orbit (LEO), can exhibit musculoskeletal, neurological, ocular, and cardiovascular degeneration within weeks of a space flight on the ISS, the study said.

The study said internal organ problems from LEO aren’t as immediately known because there aren’t visible symptoms and have, therefore, received little research.

What has been known is that astronauts are prone to kidney stones at “an unusually high rate,” the study said.

Astronauts are two to seven times more likely to get kidney stones one year after space flight, and that figure is doubled for astronauts during flight, the study said.

The study pointed to one Soviet space flight in which an astronaut was experiencing kidney stone symptoms to the degree that the mission was almost terminated; however, the stones were passed “just before an urgent deorbit was initiated.”

Microgravity—the reduction in gravity that leads to the weightlessness of people and objects floating in space—could speed up the process of and alter the biochemistry in the crystallization of kidney stone formation, according to the study.

Microgravity is also documented to cause bone demineralization, the study said.

Electrolyte and fluid levels during space flight could be impacted by changes in blood pressure and potassium levels, the study said, resulting in kidney stones.

But microgravity isn’t the only culprit: there’s also space radiation, the study said.

According to the study, space radiation emerges from three galactic phenomena: the coronal mass ejection, solar wind, and GCR.

Space radiation can also cause cancer, which it said is a concern among scientists involved in planning the 1 billion miles-plus roundtrip to Mars.

Human Exploration of Mars

NASA is shooting for human exploration on Mars because it believes “it is one of the only other places we know where life may have existed in the solar system.”

“What we learn about the Red Planet will tell us more about our Earth’s past and future, and may help answer whether life exists beyond our home planet,” NASA stated on its website. “Like the Moon, Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery and a driver of technologies that will enable humans to travel and explore far from Earth.”

NASA said it aims to have astronauts on the Red Planet by the 2030s and is currently engineering advanced propulsion systems that would make the journey to Mars and back in two years.

“NASA is advancing multiple options, including nuclear electric and nuclear thermal propulsion,” the space agency said. “Both use nuclear fission but are very different from each other. A nuclear electric rocket is more efficient, but it doesn’t generate a lot of thrust. Nuclear thermal propulsion, on the other hand, provides much more ‘oomph.’”

In addition, NASA is creating inflatable landing gear that would allow for the launching of a heavier spacecraft that will be required to enter the atmosphere.

“NASA is working on an inflatable heat shield that allows the large surface area to take up less space in a rocket than a rigid one,” the agency said. “The technology could land spacecraft on any planet with an atmosphere. It would expand and inflate before it enters the Martian atmosphere to land cargo and astronauts safely.”

NASA said it’s also engineering more flexible and adaptable suits and mobile labs to traverse the planet conducting experiments.

The Epoch Times reached out to the study’s senior author and NASA for comment and asked what research is done on the harmful effects of space travel on humans.