Space flight does not have a harmful effect on the bulk of the human immune system, according to new studies that may change how astronauts are fit for future missions.
Scientists checked blood samples taken from 23 crew members who spent six months at the International Space Station (ISS) taken before, during and after the trips.
Researchers who studied the specimens found that time in space did not cause any changes in levels of B cell immunity – white blood cells that produce antibodies to fight infections.
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Previously, it was thought that spending time in space had a negative effect on it.
New data could decide whether astronauts who travel longer in space, including those traveling one day to Mars, should receive a vaccine during the flight.
"This is the first study that thoroughly shows that a long space flight of human astronauts has a limited impact on the frequency of B cell and antibody production," said Dr. John Campbell, a lecturer at the University of Bhutto. "Our results are good news for current astronauts aboard the ISS … and for all future astronauts who will try long-term space missions."
Astronauts must maintain optimum B cell immunity to protect themselves from diseases that come from bacteria and viruses.
Scientists claim that immunity is also important to ensure that any vaccines introduced in space are effective.
"Long-term orbital space flights are associated with an increased level of psychological stress, acute and chronic exposure to cosmic radiation and microgravity, caused by changes that are known to adversely affect the immune system," said Dr. Guillaume Spilmann of Louisiana University.
The blood samples used for the study were sent from space to Earth, into Russian Union capsules of descent.
They arrived in Kazakhstan before they were taken to Moscow, and then flew to the laboratory in X'-Yountos for a journey that lasted from 32 to 48 hours.
The crew members who participated in the study were between the ages of 37 and 57, data collected over 18 separate ISS missions.
The researchers also took blood samples from six people who were ground-based for the control group.
Their study was published in Journal of Applied Physiology.
Additional reporting by agencies