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Assessing Telomere Lengths and Telomerase Activity in Astronauts (Telomeres)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human

This experiment will perform standard assays to assess crewmembers’ telomere lengths and telomerase activity as part of their space flight biochemical profiles preflight (to establish baseline), during flight (to evaluate short-term/temporary changes) and postflight (to evaluate long-term/permanent changes). Together with investigation of potential mechanisms and mitigation strategies, as well as information related to diet/nutrition, gender, age, stress, genetic predisposition/sensitivity, and appropriate statistical analyses, results will help to establish relevant relationships and suggest potential interventions (e.g., antioxidants) for further study. The Longitudinal Study of Astronaut Health (LSAH), an electronic database of medical information collected over the active and post career lives of the astronauts, will be a valuable resource in this regard. The proposed studies are also strongly grounded to on-going, as well as previous biodosimetry studies utilizing chromosome aberration data. For example, samples for cytogenetic analysis from 30 International Space Station (ISS) astronauts have been archived and could now be used (built upon) for telomere/telomerase analyses.

The overall goal is to identify and begin to define the risk (and possible underlying mechanisms) of accelerated telomere shortening and changes in telomerase activity associated with space flight, a lifestyle with a variety of unique stressors, including inadequate nutrition. Consequences of accelerated telomere shortening would include advanced aging and age associated phenotypes, ranging from reduced immune function, effects of which could be immediate/short-term and so influence performance during a mission, to cardiovascular disease and cancer, representing more long-term/permanent outcomes.

The objectives of this study are:

  1. Assess telomere lengths and telomerase activity preflight to establish baseline levels.
  2. Assess telomere lengths and telomerase activity in-flight to establish short-term (temporary) changes.
  3. Assess telomere lengths and telomerase activity postflight to establish long-term (permanent) changes.
  4. Investigate potential mechanisms (e.g., oxidative stress) and mitigation strategies (e.g., antioxidants).

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Data Information
Data Availability
Archiving in Progress. Some restricted access data exist for this experiment.
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Telomerase activity
Telomere length

Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Expedition 44 06/10/2015 09/11/2015 93 days
Expedition 45 09/11/2015 12/11/2015 91 days
Expedition 46 12/11/2015 03/02/2016 82 days
Expedition 47 03/02/2016 06/18/2016 108 days
Expedition 48 06/18/2016 09/06/2016 80 days
Expedition 49 09/06/2016 10/30/2016 54 days
Expedition 50 10/28/2016 04/09/2017 164 days
Expedition 51 04/09/2017 06/02/2017 55 days
Expedition 52 06/02/2017 09/02/2017 92 days

Human Research Program (HRP) Human Research Roadmap (HRR) Information
Crew health and performance is critical to successful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Human Research Program (HRP) investigates and mitigates the highest risks to human health and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration. Risks include physiological and performance effects from hazards such as radiation, altered gravity, and hostile environments, as well as unique challenges in medical support, human factors, and behavioral health support. The HRP utilizes an Integrated Research Plan (IRP) to identify the approach and research activities planned to address these risks, which are assigned to specific Elements within the program. The Human Research Roadmap is the web-based tool for communicating the IRP content.

The Human Research Roadmap is located at:

+ Click here for information of how this experiment is contributing to the HRP's path for risk reduction.

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Johnson Space Center LSDA Office
Project Manager: Eric Gallagher
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Alternate Experiment Name
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2012 Crew Health NNJ12ZSA