Move over poor diet, high blood pressure and unhealthy lifestyle, there’s a new leading cause of cardiovascular related death – at least for those who undertake a particular activity. As if deep space travel wasn’t dangerous enough already, according to a recent study published on Nature.com, such a mode of travel is decidedly bad for your heart. Researchers compared mortality rates due to heart disease of the general population, astronauts who never flew into space, astronauts who went into low-earth orbit, and lunar astronauts – or the only people who have been outside of Earth’s protective magnetic field.
The chart below shows how those different populations compared when looking at people who died due to heart disease between the ages of 55 and 64.
A couple things can be gleaned from this chart. The first is that astronauts as a whole are pretty darned healthy. Their death rate due to heart disease is roughly a third that of the rest of the population. The other is that if you fly in deep space, the rate quintuples, which is a staggering statistic. It should be noted that the sample size of Apollo astronauts is very small (7).
What else came from the study?
- While your overall health as an astronaut is pretty darned good, you are 10x more likely to die in an accident than the rest of the population.
- Lunar astronauts didn’t suffer the same accident rate – they were only at roughly 3x the general population.
- Cancer rates were essentially the same across the board.
- After 6-7 months of recovery from space travel, body mass, muscle mass, and other related health characteristics didn’t significantly change.