Are moonshots hazardous to heart health?

Image: Apollo 15
NASA astronaut James Irwin salutes the American flag during the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. Irwin experienced irregular heart rhythms while on the lunar surface, and suffered at least two serious heart attacks after returning to Earth. He died in 1991. (Credit: NASA)

Is deep-space radiation hazardous to your cardiovascular system? A newly published study focusing on the Apollo astronauts suggests that it is, but the sample size is too small to firm up the connection.

The suggestion of a link comes out of a study published today in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal affiliated with Nature.

A research team led by Florida State University’s Michael Delp looked at the medical histories of seven Apollo astronauts who took part in lunar missions and have since died. They compared those histories with similar mortality statistics for astronauts who stayed in low Earth orbit, as well as astronauts who never got into orbit.

The aim was to find out whether the increased exposure to radiation that astronauts get when they travel beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field might have added health impacts.

“We know very little about the effects of deep space radiation on human health, particularly on the cardiovascular system,” Delp explained in a news release. “This gives us the first glimpse into its adverse effects on humans.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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