As if homesickness, muscle atrophy, thinner bones, a high risk of cancer, the inescapable company of overachievers, and the prospect of death in the endless void of space weren’t enough, Male astronauts may return from deep space prone to erectile dysfunction. say the scientists.
In what is believed to be the first study to assess the impact of galactic radiation and weightlessness on male sexual health, NASA-funded researchers have found that galactic cosmic rays, and to a lesser extent microgravity , can impair the function of erectile tissues, with effects that can last for decades.
Raising concerns in a report released on Wednesday, US researchers said they had identified “a new health risk to consider with deep space exploration”. They called for astronauts’ sexual health to be closely monitored when they return from future deep space missions, noting that certain antioxidants may help counteract adverse effects by blocking harmful biological processes.
“Although the negative impacts of galactic cosmic radiation were long-lasting, the functional improvements induced by acute targeting of redox and nitric oxide pathways in tissues suggest that erectile dysfunction may be treatable,” said Dr. Justin La Favor, expert in neurovascular dysfunction. at Florida State University and lead author of the study.
The warning comes amid renewed interest in deep space missions, with NASA and other major space agencies preparing for long-term expeditions to the Moon and more ambitious trips to Mars. NASA’s Artemis program aspires to send astronauts to the Moon as early as next year, with crewed missions to Mars tentatively planned as early as 2040.
Since the dawn of the space age, scientists have studied the impact on human physiology of weightlessness and cosmic radiation – the high-energy particles, x-rays and gamma rays that originate from stars and other celestial bodies. This work led to the introduction of preventive measures, including special exercise regimes on the International Space Station (ISS) to protect astronauts from bone and muscle wasting.
But according to La Favor and colleagues at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, the effects of spaceflight on erectile dysfunction have not been explored. “While erectile dysfunction affects more than half of men over 40 and represents an important factor in life satisfaction, the consequences of space travel on erectile function still remain unclear,” they write in the newspaper. Faseb newspaper.
Earth is highly protected from cosmic radiation by the planet’s magnetic field and significant atmosphere, but on the Moon, Mars, and the space between, no effective barriers exist. On board the ISS, crews are protected by shielding and the Earth’s magnetic field, but nevertheless receive as much radiation in a week as a person on the ground would receive in a year.
Without sufficient numbers of humans, researchers turned to rats to explore the impact of spaceflight on male physiology. In a series of experiments, dozens of rats were suspended in harnesses at a 30-degree angle and exposed to simulated galactic cosmic rays at NASA’s Space Radiation Laboratory in New York.
Analysis of the rats’ tissues a year later revealed that even low exposure to galactic cosmic rays increased oxidative stress in the animals. This impairs the function of the artery that supplies blood to the penis and erectile tissue. Weightlessness also had an impact, but not as marked.
“Collectively, these results suggest that neurovascular function of erectile tissues may be impaired during the remainder of astronauts’ sexual health after returning to Earth from prolonged deep space exploration,” the authors write.
Not that this is bad news for future astronauts. Treatment with specific antioxidants appears to improve tissue function after exposure to galactic cosmic rays, suggesting that male astronauts bound for Mars don’t need to be too deflated.