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article imageHow thin skin presents space travel risk

By Tim Sandle     Jun 1, 2015 in Science
Space travel is back in the news again, with talk of a mission to Mars and perhaps further within the galaxy. Yet many questions about human physiology and space travel remain unanswered. Here, scientists have stumbled on a new risk: thinning skin.
There are many risks facing the first people to travel a long distance in space. These include radiation, fatigue, boredom, and disease. Another to add to the list is with the skin becoming excessively thin, to the degree that it poses a physiological problem. New studies conducted with mice and zero gravity has highlighted this concern.
The new study used three mice. The mice spent 91 days on board the International Space Station. At the end of the study, researchers used microscopes to examine the skin of the rodents. This investigation has uncovered several abnormalities in their skin. Here scientists found the mice had thinner skin than mice that had stayed on the ground. There were also developed changes with muscles and hair. The researchers have put this down to "early degradation of defective newly formed procollagen molecules."
The reason that mice were used is to the relatively fast lifespan that mice have compared with people; this allows scientists to view accelerated models on ageing.
The results, admittedly on a very small sample, present another dilemma for long-distance space travel. Further work into protecting the human is required before any mission to Mars (or anywhere else) is seriously considered. Speaking with the BBC, Dr Betty Nusgens from the University of Liege in Belgium said: ""If these were experiments on Earth, it would never have been accepted for publication because we had only three mice - but this is a unique experiment."
The new study has been published in the journal NPJ Microgravity. The research paper is titled "Skin physiology in microgravity: a 3-month stay aboard ISS induces dermal atrophy and affects cutaneous muscle and hair follicles cycling in mice."
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