Aug 17, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

Space Radiation May Be Causing Astronaut Deaths

Jul 16, 2019 09:15 AM EDT

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NASA -- One of the occupational hazards that astronauts have to face is the fact that they are exposed to the Sun's harmful rays. Such exposure could bring about the risk of developing a heart problem or worse, cancer. At least that's what most people think. However, new research shows that astronauts are not really dying prematurely. However, scientists warn that missions that require them to stay longer in space may pose serious health hazards. 

The study published in Scientific Reports reveals that there may be little association between exposure to space radiation and the increased risk of cardiovascular complications or death from cancer disease among cosmonauts and astronauts. This is a rather surprising yet positively encouraging fact about the conditions of these professionals as it has long been thought of as damaging the human body at the levels of ionized radiation. Such exposure has also been thought of as something that astronauts will have to deal at a later time, possibly because of the diseases they will have to endure after a few years. 

However, longer durations in space could still put the astronauts at a higher health risks said Robert Reynolds, the lead author of the study. He is working as an executive in Mortality Research & Consulting, Inc in California. He also emphasized that as a person moves farther away from the protective field of the Earth, likens this to the proposed mission to Mars, only puts them to dangerous conditions not to mention that it could lead to potentially life shortening consequences. 

For the study, the team led by Reynolds performed an analysis of data that was already available. They looked into the records of a total of 418 spacefaring personnel including 117 cosmonauts and 301 astronauts. They considered the records of all the astronauts that worked for NASA since 1959. All of the participants in the data they collected have experienced a trip in space prior to the year 2017.

The study focused on two particular causes of death among the participant data -- cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Both conditions can be greatly associated with radiation exposure. Among the astronauts, 30% died of  cancer and less than 15% died of heart disease. 

"If ionizing radiation impacts the human body and puts it at risk for cardiovascular diseases and cancer, the effect then it is not dramatic," Reynolds said. However, the team considers the result of their study as "historical doses of space radiation".

 The situation in the future may be different as astronauts goes deeper into space. Reynolds emphasizes that a mission to Mars may take years of a person's life. 

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