A new report indicates that space travel could potentially cause liver damage. As if the vast, cold deadliness of space in itself weren't dangerous enough.
According to Space, a new study found mice that spent two weeks in space back during NASA’s last shuttle mission in 2011 showed early-stage liver disease once they made it back to the ground. The study found that while in space, the mice stored more fat in their livers than mice on the ground, and the genes responsible for breaking down fats also started to change. Some of the mice even started to show early signs of fibrosis, which occurs when scar tissue develops in the live.
"It generally takes a long time, months to years, to induce fibrosis in mice, even when eating an unhealthy diet," the study’s lead author Karen Jonscher said in a statement. "If a mouse is showing nascent signs of fibrosis without a change in diet after 13.5 days, what is happening to the humans?”
These findings are still very preliminary, and more studies will certainly be coming down in the next few years to determine the actual effect this could have on humans, as well as how even longer stints in space might affect mice. There are still a lot of questions to be answered, but there's no doubt that this could be troubling. As NASA works toward a mission to Mars, these findings could be crucial to make sure the astronauts we send can actually survive the journey.
It goes without saying, but hey, space ain’t easy.