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Six months of space travel wastes as much bone as two decades on Earth, astronaut study shows

A study by academics on astronauts revealed the terrible effects space travel has had on the human skeleton.

Research revealed that astronauts experienced “significant” bone loss on six-month space missions. This is equivalent to approximately two decades on Earth.

About half of the bone lost was recovered within a year of returning home, raising concerns about future missions on Mars and the Moon.

Longer space missions resulted in increased bone loss and lower chances of recovery.


The lack of gravity in space causes bone loss, which is why most weight-bearing bones are weightless.

The study involved 17 astronauts, 14 men and three ladies with average ages of 47 who flew on the International Space Station (ISS).

The crew hails from the US space agency NASA and the Canadian and European Space Agencies as well as the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Learn more about the International Space Station

After returning to Earth, they worked for one year with Leigh Gabel, a University of Calgary professor.

After spending four to seven months in space, nine crew members suffered permanent bone mineral density losses.

Professor Gabel stated that astronauts suffered significant bone loss over six-month spaceflights. This loss is similar to what we see in older adults over twenty-five years on Earth. However, they only recovered half of that loss after a year back on Earth. The research was published in Scientific Reports.

Image: Concerns have been raised about future Mars missions. Pic: CNSA/REUTERS

“We know astronauts can lose bone during long-duration spaceflight.

“The novelty of this study is that it followed astronauts for one-year after they returned from space to determine if and how bone recovery occurs.”

Professor Gabel stated that space agencies need to improve their countermeasures such as nutrition and exercise in order to prevent bone loss.

The study concluded that in-flight resistance training on the ISS was crucial for preventing bone loss and muscle weakness.

The chances of a spacecraft containing more bone were higher for those who lifted more weights than their regular exercise on Earth.

On average, astronauts experienced a 2.1% decrease in density in the lower leg bone, the tibia, and 1.3% reductions in bone strength.

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After spending 355 days in space, a NASA astronaut returned to Earth.

Professor Gabel stated that spaceflight causes fine bone structures to thin and eventually, some bone rods to become disconnected from each other.

“Once an astronaut returns to Earth, any remaining bone connections can thicken or strengthen. However, the ones that were lost in space can’t been rebuilt so the astronaut’s overall bone structure permanently alters.”

Research also showed that space travel can also affect the cardiovascular system.

Professor Gabel stated that astronauts do not experience gravity pulling blood towards their feet. Instead, they experience a fluid shift which causes more blood to pool in their upper bodies. This can have a negative impact on vision and the cardiovascular system.

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Radiation is another concern. Astronauts are more exposed to the sun than others and have a greater chance of developing cancer.

Professor Gabel said that there is still much to learn about microgravity’s effects on human health, especially on longer-term space missions than six months.

“We hope that bone loss will plateau on longer missions and that people stop losing bone. But we don’t know.


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