Project Wonder - The art of science at the Medical College of Wisconsin

Space Travel and Heart Health

What happens to your heart when you travel to Mars? As we gear up for human space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, a crucial concern emerges. Astronauts living outside Earth's protective atmosphere and geomagnetic field could face health risks from galactic cosmic rays (GCRs).

GCRs, composed of ions of all naturally occurring elements across a wide energy spectrum, pose a unique challenge due to their high energy and diverse composition. These rays can impact human health, including heart health, during extended missions.

John E. Baker, PhD, professor of surgery, biochemistry and pharmacology and toxicology at MCW, partnered with NASA to study how cosmic radiation might affect the heart's health during extended space travel. The study involved exposing rats, representing early- to-mid-career astronauts, to high-energy ion beams like GCRs. The results showed that exposure to three sequential ion beams led to the development of "perivascular cardiac fibrosis" (increased collagen around blood vessels) and an increase in systemic systolic blood pressure in these rats in a 9-month period following exposure.

These findings shed light on cardiovascular risks astronauts might face during long space missions and well after their return to earth. Further understanding these effects could be crucial for ensuring astronaut health during upcoming explorations. 🌍🛰️ #SpaceHealth

Artwork & animation:
Dave Kiehl

John E. Baker, PhD

Alex Boyes