Twins Test How Space Affects Cognition

When astronauts go into space, they have been known to experience a bit of disorientation. However, it has been difficult for scientists to study or measure these phenomena using normal cognitive or mental performance tests, but this time, some scientists at the University of Pennsylvania will be doing something different.

Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut, is about to go off to serve a yearlong mission in space on the International Space Station in orbit around the Earth. While Kelly is doing his space tour, the group of scientists will compare test results done on his mental ability with another person here on Earth – his identical twin brother, Mark, who is actually a retired astronaut.

The study of the twins test is one of the ten experiments NASA has given the go for during the one-year space mission on the International Space Station, which is expected to launch next week.

Other researchers are going to be doing tests on other subjects, such as how space affects the astronaut’s immune system, genetic expression and his intestinal bacteria. Then, these tests will be compared to the results from similar tests done on his twin.

The objective is for scientists to get a better awareness of what goes on in a person’s body during a prolonged space trip, as NASA gets ready to plan a future trip to the planet Mars, which is expected to take two and a half to three years.

While NASA has quite a bit of information on those astronauts who have been in space for six months, no one really knows if things would be different if the trip was lengthened to a year or more.

It is entirely possible that future long distance space travelers would have problems with conditions like stress, sleep deprivation, or suffer due to the higher carbon dioxide levels they breathe while in space. Also, it is already known that astronauts suffer problems from a loss of bone strength due to weightlessness that makes body fluids settle in unusual areas.

Scientists say they are doing this study because they want future astronauts to be healthy. Space is a hostile environment and space travel also involves the operation of lots of equipment, and they want the astronauts to be in tip top shape to protect themselves and the gear.

Twin studies are something that has been used a lot in scientific studies in the past since they can compare similar genes and get a better idea of how things impact the human body better. DNA in identical twins is almost exactly the same, so their health and other factors can be compared in the two different environments in this case, space, and on Earth.

The two Kellys will be undergoing tests to check things like their memory, emotion recognition and spatial orientation. For instance, in one of the tests they will choose from a set of shapes to finish a pattern, and in another they must figure out how to blow up virtual balloons.