Aw Nuts! Deep Space Travel Could Have A Debilitating Side Effect For Male Astronauts
As NASA prepares to send humans back to the moon and later onto Mars, researchers say males making the long journey in space may run into a problem. A new study has found that deep space missions where astronauts exposed to high levels of galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) and microgravity might be highly subject to long-lasting erectile dysfunction.
The research was conducted on 86 adult male Fisher-344 rats that were randomized into six groups, each exposed to four weeks of hind-limb unloading or weight-bearing control. After 12-13-months of recovery, researchers tested the animals’ penile blood vessels and corpus cavernosum for their ability to constrict in response to drugs and electrical stimulation, along with nitric oxide (NO) metabolite levels.
The results indicated that even after a long recovery period, the affected rats showed that the radiation had significantly impaired endothelial function and tissue relaxation. This suggests dysfunction of the NO pathway, which is vital for normal erectile function. It was also noted increased levels of oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species in the corpus cavernosum. In short, the affected rats could not “Get it on.”
“With crewed [crewed] missions to outer space planned for the coming years, this work indicates that sexual health should be closely monitored in astronauts upon their return to Earth,” remarked Justin La Favor, co-author of the study. “While the negative impacts of galactic cosmic radiation were long-lasting, functional improvements induced by acutely targeting the redox and nitric oxide pathways in the tissues suggest that the erectile dysfunction may be treatable.”
The study also makes note that the findings “expose a new health risk to consider with deep space exploration.” As space agencies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, continue to push toward sending humans to Mars for colonization, it is imperative that more studies of this nature take place if those space colonies are to be repopulated.
Musk is quoted on the SpaceX website as remarking, “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great - and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”
Hopefully, by the time humans make it to Mars, there will be a solution to the erectile dysfunction issue, or at least plenty of 'little blue pills' to go around.