The report by NASA, released on Wednesday, suggests that astronauts would have significant blood flow problems in their upper bodies and as such the findings hold major implications for future missions to Mars. It has been well documented for decades that spaceflight is hard on the human body, with NASA knowing for decades the reduced gravity causes muscles to lose mass and bones significantly more brittle. But the new discovery shows a significant issue with a blood vessel on the side of the neck that is responsible for draining blood out of the face, brain and neck.
In the study 11 astronauts were examined who stayed on the International Space Station for an average of six months.
By the 50th days of missions seven of those examined showed during ultrasound assessment that their blood had stagnated or reversed flow in their left internal jugular vein.
One of those tested was even found to have developed a clot on the vein with a partial clot being found in another person tested after they returned to Earth.
Michael Stenger, manager of the Cardiovascular and Vision Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the study’s senior author, said: “We did not expect to see stasis and reverse flow. That is very abnormal. On Earth, you would immediately suspect a massive blockage or a tumor or something like that.”
The findings could seriously hamper any plans for long haul flights in the future
The findings hold serious implications for missions to Mars
But Mr Stenger said he’s most concerned about crew members who experienced stagnant blood flow in this blood vessel.
He added: “If those blood cells aren’t moving, they start sticking to each other, and that’s what we call a blood clot.
“It’s the same risk factor when you sit on an airplane for too long and could get clots in your legs.”
Speaking of the risks, Dr Andrew Feinberg, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said: “It’s potentially a serious problem.
The risks for astronauts on long haul flights include reverse blood flow and blood clots
“If you get a clot in the internal jugular vein, the clot could travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism — that’s very dangerous. If that happens on a long-term mission, it could be calamitous.”
But the findings don’t necessarily scupper all plans for space travel as some experts said the findings would eventually lead to development of treatments and interventions.
This comes as researchers may have found the key to identifying ancient Martian life after discovering a mineral that well preserves the fossilised remains of life.
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The findings don’t necessarily mean an end to long haul flights
Scientists may have found the perfect site for fossilised life
The crater known as Jezero where the minerals were found, is the landing site for the Mars rover’s next mission and has been found to contain large amounts of hydrated silica and carbonates.
Hydrated silica is a form of silicon dioxide which contains a variable amount of water, while carbonates are salt of carbonic acid, characterised by the presence of the carbonate ion, a polyatomic ion with the formula of CO²⁻ ₃.
The presence of the substance in abundance gives scientists the belief that if fossils are to be found on Mars they could very likely be found in the crater.
The high amount of Carbonates in the crater provide the perfect condition for structures like shells, coral and microbial life to survive for billions of years.
The study’s lead author, Jesse Tarnas, a PhD student at Brown University in Rhode Island, US said: “Using a technique we developed that helps us find rare, hard-to-detect mineral phases in data taken from orbiting spacecraft, we found two outcrops of hydrated silica within Jezero crater.”
These outcrops will provide targets for the upcoming rovers exploration mission in the future.
The Mars Rover is due to land on mars in 2021
“The material that forms the bottom layer of a delta is sometimes the most productive in terms of preserving biosignatures,” explained Jack Mustard, professor at Brown and study co-author.
“So if you can find that bottomset layer, and that layer has a lot of silica in it, that’s a double bonus,” he added.
The rover is due to land on Mars on February 18, 2021, when it will begin taking rock core samples on the Martian surface, waiting to be shipped back to Earth for analysis during a later mission.