Space travel’s hidden risks include erectile dysfunction and frost damage challenges

by Shura Guseva

The realm of commercial spaceflight is brimming with scientific and ethical challenges. In the latest episode of the Physics World Weekly podcast, biomedical ethicist Vasiliki Rahimzadeh from Baylor College of Medicine emphasizes the need for stringent ethical guidelines in human-based space research. She asserts the importance of participants being fully cognizant of the inherent risks involved in these missions.

Space travel's hidden risks include erectile dysfunction and frost damage challenges
astronaut on the moon stands on the background of space.

In a groundbreaking study by Florida State University and Wake Forest University, researchers have unearthed a startling risk to male sexual health during deep space voyages. Utilizing rat models, the team replicated the cosmic ray flux conditions akin to those in missions to the Moon or Mars, beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field. Post-exposure analysis revealed oxidative stress in the rats’ tissues.

Notably, in male specimens, this stress impeded blood flow to the penile erectile tissue, pointing towards a potential risk of erectile dysfunction for astronauts exposed to similar cosmic conditions. Moreover, the study suggests that weightlessness might exacerbate this risk, though to a lesser extent. This erectile dysfunction is not just a space-bound issue. Researchers anticipate its persistence even after astronauts return to Earth.

However, they propose that antioxidant medications could mitigate these effects. The detailed findings of this study, led by Justin La Favor, are documented in The FASEB Journal, with further insights available in a related article by Ian Sample in The Guardian. With winter’s arrival in the northern hemisphere, frost damage becomes a pertinent concern. As Katherine Wright from Physics Magazine elucidates, the process is more intricate than the conventional understanding of water’s expansion upon freezing. Contrary to popular belief, even liquids that contract when frozen can cause frost damage.

The crux of frost damage lies in how freezing liquid within porous materials can attract more liquid, leading to swelling. Research led by ice specialist Robert Style at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology sheds light on this phenomenon. The team’s experiments involved a porous structure created from silicone sandwiched between glass slides. Fluorescent molecules in the silicone helped visualize the swelling process and the liquid channels within the ice responsible for this absorption.

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