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The mysteries of the astronaut biome

The mysteries of the astronaut biome

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Space poses some massive dangers for humans, from black holes to the heat death of the universe. But as humanity considers long-haul space travel, there are other, smaller potential hazards that some researchers say may deserve more attention: microbes from Earth.

Astronauts face numerous known health problems in space, including a loss in bone density, muscle atrophy, and psychological issues. And on Earth, researchers are increasingly discovering how the various bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside and outside of people — the human microbiome — affect physical and mental health.

Space, of course, is an entirely different environment from Earth, with high radiation levels and microgravity. Although the science is far from certain, these vast differences may cause unexpected changes in the microbiome of astronauts. In turn, this could result in a range of health problems, which may be more pronounced on long-haul stints in space, like traveling to another planet.

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