When Buzz Aldrin became the second man to ever walk on the moon, his lunar escapades, along with those of Neil Armstrong, were a cause of national and pretty much global joy, wonder and pride. That the mission was hazardous was self-evident — from launch to the ad-lib and hair-raising landing on the moon, to return to Earth– but the nation and certainly the astronauts were more than ready to take the risk.
A half century later, Armstrong has passed (at 82 from complication of cardiac surgery) but Aldrin is still writing books and proposing plans to reach Mars. Their time in space may well have changed their lives and views of the world, but it did not seem to affect their basic health.
But the two were in space for only eight days and so were not exposed to the long-term effects of solar radiation, microgravity and isolation that are now under intense study. Because the next generation of astronauts who may be going to the moon and beyond will be going for much longer periods of time and so will face a wide range of potential problems that weren’t considered major issues in Apollo or even later days.
Much has been learned since Apollo, however, and some of it raises new risks and new problems. And that’s why the just-released Twin Study of the health comparison of long-staying International Space Station astronaut Scott Kelly and his ground-based twin brother Mark Kelly has been eagerly awaited.
Now that we know somewhat better what to look for in terms of more subtle damage that can come from long stays in space, what are the dangers and how serious are they?
“Given that the majority of the biological and human health variables remained stable, or returned to baseline, after a 340-dayspace mission, these data suggest that human health can be mostly sustained over this duration of spaceflight,” the study concludes.