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NASA Twins Study offers new insight on how space travel ages people

A radiation researcher from CSU and a team of other scientists have closely studied the Kelly twins to learn about the effects of stress on aging.


A CSU researcher has been staring at twins for years. With their permission. 

Dr. Susan Bailey, Professor of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences at Colorado State University, has been working on NASA's Twins Study. One twin went to space for a year while the other stayed on Earth. Then Bailey and other scientists closely studied both to learn about aging.

"I just can’t even tell you how great it’s been," Bailey said.

The research began at Colorado State University in 2013. 

In 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly went up to space for a year while his twin Mark Kelly remained on Earth. It gave researchers and scientists across the country the perfect opportunity to study two identical twins in very different environments.

Over the years, NASA's Twins Study has become a widely-recognized breakthrough.

"The Twins Study was actually ten different studies that collectively became known as the Twins Study, and ours was one of those," Bailey said. 

Credit: John Eisele/CSU Photography
Susan Bailey, Professor of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, February 13, 2019

What Dr. Bailey and her team at CSU learned was very different than what they originally hypothesized.

Before Scott Kelly was sent into orbit, the research team at Colorado State University predicted the stress of space travel would age the astronaut quicker than his brother here on Earth. 

"When the results were in and came back we saw exactly the opposite thing," Bailey said.

Read the full study | NASA Twins Study offers new insight on how a human's body responds to spaceflight

As you age, parts of your DNA shorten. Scott Kelly's DNA was actually getting longer. 

This research is a huge step for NASA as it prepares to send its astronauts to Mars.

"As NASA thinks about going deeper into space, going to the moon or to Mars, we have a much clearer idea of the kinds of things we need to be aware of and the kinds of things we need to be monitoring in our astronauts when they return home," Bailey said.

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