Imagination has brought mankind through the dark ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity.
L. Frank Baum
So why should it be hard to imagine that studying the aging process in space could produce positive, life improvements, and new remedies to the ailments brought on by aging? I feel certain that a few healthy, mentally, and emotionally stable babyboomers would be honored to volunteer for a study that has the far-reaching, healing possibilities of this one. It’s a fact that 3.3 million Americans today are over 85, and it is predicted that 18.9 million Americans will be over 85 by the year 2050.
When I first read this question, I misinterpreted its meaning. The relationship between the aging process and the changes astronauts experience due to space travel didn’t immediately come to mind. My first, uneducated response was, “How insane, imagine grandma participating in an experiment on mars, just so the government can see if the aging process is different in space!” That idea is outlandish. So, after pondering the subject for a moment, I decided I needed to conduct some research before answering the question.
A little research provided my inquiring mind with some astonishing facts. Most of the changes that aging produce, occur to astronauts when they travel to and from space. For example, cardiovascular deconditioning, balance disorders, weakening bones and muscles, disturbed sleep, and depressed immune response. An important difference is that these changes are reversible in astronauts.
The following paragraph is an excerpt from the web site www.weboflife.nasa.gov, which is where I obtained the above examples as well:
Research has shown that insufficient exercise- due to aging, paralysis, weakness, injury, or prolonged bed rest, for example- can cause a downward spiral in an individual’s health over time, increasing susceptibility to bone fractures and slowing recovery from injuries and other ailments. What researchers learn about the physiological effects of the inactivity that accompanies space flight may yield ways of limiting the deconditioning symptoms of the inactivity that comes with aging.
The physical changes due to aging compared to the physical changes, experienced by astronauts are remarkably similar. The biomedical research questioned here is a collaboration of NASA’s Life Science Research and the National Institute of Health, to see if the effects of aging and space deconditioning , result from the same processes. If they do, ” the golden years” will truly be golden. Though the thought may be unnerving to some, the risk is worth taking.