A team of researchers from NASA and other research centres have published a roadmap on how to circumvent or withstand the hazards of radiation during deep space exploration and colonization.
Published in the peer-reviewed journal Oncotarget, the roadmap outlines future plans toward the goal of enhancing human radioresistance, including upregulation of endogenous repair and radioprotective mechanisms, possible leeways into gene therapy.
Even the translation of exogenous and engineered DNA repair and radioprotective mechanisms, the substitution of organic molecules with fortified isoforms, the coordination of regenerative and ablative technologies, and methods of slowing metabolic activity while preserving cognitive function formed part of the discussion.
The paper also highlighted the known links between radioresistance and longevity and articulating the position that enhancing human radioresistance is likely to extend the healthspan of human spacefarers, with the Mars travel in view during the 2030s.
Afshin Beheshti, an author of the paper and a Bioinformatician at NASA Ames Research Center, said: "This paper explores the foreseeable means by which human radioresistance could be biomedically enhanced for the purposes of space exploration and colonization."
The research aims to elucidate the links between aging, longevity and radioresistance, and the ways in which research into enhancing human radioresistance could synergistically enable human healthspan extension, said Franco Cortese, an author of the paper and Deputy Director of the Biogerontology Research Foundation.
The publication of the paper in Oncotarget this week coincides with the test launch of the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX's largest rocket to date, just last week. Interest in space exploration and even colonisation has been mounting for a number of years. Less than one year ago Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, unveiled a roadmap toward colonizing Mars, outlining the ambitious goal of placing a million people on Mars within the next 40 to 100 years.
The roadmap highlights the need to converge and accelerate research in radiobiology, biogerontology and AI to enable spacefarers to address both the healthcare challenges that we are already aware of, as well as those that we are not.
"Sooner or later we'll have to do it - leave Earth and wander into deep space. Such travel, taking one or more years outside the Earth's magnetosphere, would take a high toll on astronauts' health due to exposure to cosmic radiation. So it's better to start thinking now about how we are going to cope with that challenge," said Dmitry Klokov, an author of the paper and Section Head of the Radiobiology & Health section at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.
Furthermore, given the massive amount of funding allocated to research into facilitating and optimizing space exploration and optimization, the researchers hope to have shown how research into enhancing radioresistance for space exploration could galvanize progress in human healthspan extension, an area of research that is still massively underfunded despite its potential to prevent the massive economic burden posed by the future healthcare costs associated with demographic aging.
Other institutes who are part of the roadmap study include Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences Directorate at Health Canada, Oxford University, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, Insilico Medicine, the Biogerontology Research Center, Boston University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Lethbridge, Ghent University, Center for Healthy Aging.