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Microgravity in space perturbs human physiology and is detrimental for astronaut health, a fact first realized during early Apollo missions when astronauts experienced inner ear disturbances, heart arrhythmia, low blood pressure, dehydration, and loss of calcium from their bones after their missions.

One of the most striking observations from Apollo missions was that just over half of astronauts became sick with colds or other infections within a week of returning to Earth. Some astronauts have even experienced re-activation of dormant viruses, such as the chickenpox virus. These findings stimulated studies on the effects of weak gravity, or "microgravity," on the immune system, which scientists have been exploring for decades of manned rockets launches, shuttle travel and space station stints, or sometimes by simulating space gravity in earthbound labs.

In the last study led by one of the first women astronauts, Millie Hughes-Fulford, PhD, researchers at UCSF and Stanford University now have shown that the weakening of an astronaut's immune system during space travel is likely due in part to abnormal activation of immune cells called T regulator cells (Tregs).

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