Cardiovascular disease affects around 46 percent of men and 48 percent of women but scholars in Florida are concerned that Apollo astronauts have died from related diseases 43 percent of the time. Why be worried, when it is lower? Because they have exceptional government health care, not the kind people under the Affordable Care Act get, and that means in a spacefaring environment, there could be unforeseen issues.
It is well-documented that age is the biggest risk factor for all diseases, and cardiovascular disease is the big killer of Americans. The Apollo program began 50 years ago so it is no surprise elderly astronauts have heart issues.
In Scientific Reports, Florida State University, Dean of the College of Human Sciences Michael Delp asserts that the men who traveled into deep space as part of the lunar missions were exposed to levels of galactic cosmic radiation that have not been experienced by any other astronauts or cosmonauts. He believes that exposure is now manifesting itself as cardiovascular problems, though to physicians it would seem like cosmic rays are reducing cardiovascular disease.
It's not the only thing the author gets wrong. In their press release, he contends the Apollo program began in 1961 and ended in 1972. Though the moon landing was proposed at the end of 1961, construction of Apollo mission control didn't even begin until late 1962. The Gemini program succeeded Mercury and ran until 1966 when Apollo succeeded Gemini and its first mission ended in a launch fire. After Apollo 7 and its 11 day mission in space, there were 10 more manned flights in the program, including the famous moon landings. It ended in 1975, only its last flight was in 1972.
The sample size is small so why imply astronauts suffered special heart issues related to cosmic rays? Unless the next president cancels their predecessor's mission the way the current president did, NASA may at least have humans orbit the moon again by 2030. Russia, China and the European Space Agency are all looking at lunar missions. And SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, claims it can land humans on Mars by 2026 if the government gives them enough money.
But if astronauts have better health outcomes than the public, and 43 percent of deceased Apollo astronauts died from a cardiovascular problem. That is four to five times higher than non-flight astronauts and astronauts who have traveled in low Earth orbit.
The obvious confounders; low earth orbit travelers are all much younger. And why would it be better to die from cancer or a car accident? Would those astronauts have died of heart issues had they lived? Probably. That is why it is the number one killer. Of the 24 men who flew into deep space on the Apollo lunar missions, eight have died and seven were included in the study. The eighth -- Edgar Mitchell -- died after the data analysis had been completed.
So the researchers used mice, exposing them to the type of radiation that Apollo astronauts would have experienced. After six months -- the equivalent of 20 human years -- the mice demonstrated an impairment of arteries that is known to lead to the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in humans.
But mice are not little people. Space radiation could be harmful to their vascular health, but everything in a Thanksgiving dinner is a carcinogen in rodents - that is the problem with rodent studies. They are a starting point, not science in themselves.