ALTERED STATES

Astronaut Scott Kelly came back “different” after his record-breaking year in space. Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino helps make sense of what happened.

Aired on April 4, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

> ASTRONAUT SCOTT KELLY SPENT A YEAR ABOARD THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION, A BOLD MISSION THAT ENDED IN 2016.

THE MISSION'S PURPOSE WAS TO DISCOVER THE EFFECTS ON KELLEY'S BODY.

THE RESULTS WE WERE TOLD THAT 7% OF SCOTT KELLY'S GENE EXPRESSIONS CHANGED SINCE RETURNING TO EARTH.

BUT FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE NOT ROCKET SCIENTISTS, THAT TOOK ON A NEW, SOMEWHAT EXAGGERATED AND CONFUSING MEANING, QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT SCOTT KELLY'S DNA REALLY WAS CHANGE.

COULD THIS MEAN AS WAS SUGGESTED THAT THEY ARE NO LONGER QUITE IDENTICAL TWINS?

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED UP THERE IN SPACE?

HERE TO SORT IT OUT, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT MICHAEL MASSIMINO, MICHAEL, THANKS FOR BEING WITH US.

PLEASURE TO BE HERE.

IT'S FAIR TO SAY THAT THERE WAS SOME CONFUSING REPORTING ABOUT THIS.

YES.

I THINK THERE WAS SOME CONFUSION ON THE PART OF NASA'S STATEMENTS IN TERMS OF NOT MAKING IT CLEAR TO THOSE OF US AS WE SAID WHO ARE NOT ROCKET SCIENTISTS.

WHAT WAS THE CAUSE OF THE CONFUSION?

I THINK IT WAS THE WAY THE STATEMENT WAS RELEASED OR THE INFORMATION THAT WAS RELEASED, IT SOUNDED LIKE THIS IS A BIG, BIG CHANGE AND THEY MAY NO LONGER BE TWINS.

BUT KNOWING THOSE TWO GUYS, I DON'T CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO THEIR DNA, THEY'LL BE FOREVER BROTHERS AND BEST FRIENDS.

I DON'T CARE WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM.

BUT A SCIENTIFIC STANDPOINT, I THINK THAT WAS A MISINTERPRETATION OF THAT STATEMENT.

I DON'T THINK NASA TRIED TO LEAD PEOPLE IN THE WRONG WAY OR ANYONE DID, BUT IT SOUNDED LIKE AN INTERESTING PIECE AND IT WAS A BIT MISINTERPRETED AND EXAGGERATED.

FROM WHAT I SAW, SCIENTISTS FOUND A 7% DIFFERENCE IN GENE EXPRESSION.

ARE YOU SAYING THAT THE GENES WERE CHANGED 7%? T THAT'S NOT WHAT IT MEANS, RIGHT?

I THINK OVERALL, THE TWIN STUDY, THE VALUE OF IT IS THAT THEY PUT NASA IN A POSITION THAT THEY WANTED TO STUDY THE CHANGES IN THE HUMAN BODY FROM A MOLECULAR LEVEL, AND TODAY YOU CAN STUDY THE GENOME AND WE'RE VERY LUCKY THAT WE HAVE THAT TECHNOLOGY.

NASA HAD LOOKED AT CHANGES IN ASTRONAUTS BY LOOKING AT OTHER THINGS IN THE PAST.

SO THIS WAS A NEW THING FOR THEM.

WE ALWAYS TRY TO MEASURE THINGS LIKE BONE LOSS, CHANGES IN VISION OR HEARING, ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHECK WHEN YOU GET A PHYSICAL.

THOSE ARE THINGS THAT ARE EASILY MEASURED.

THEY WOULD DO THINGS LIKE CHECK OUR BALANCE, PUT YOU ON YOUR BACK AND SEE HOW WELL YOU COULD STAND UP, YOUR BALANCE, HOW THAT WAS AFFECTED.

IF YOU GO THROUGH CHANGES IN 0 GRAVITY, PRIMARILY THINGS IN YOUR INNER EAR, IT WORKS ON GRAVITY, AND THAT'S NOT THE CASE IN SPACE.

HOW LONG CAN YOU NOT DRIVE A CAR, FLY AN AIRPLANE, THOSE MEASURES, MUSCLE, BONE, EYESIGHT, HEARING, BALANCE, ALL THESE THINGS ARE VERY IMPORTANT.

NOW I THINK WHAT'S INTERESTING WITH THE TWIN STUDY IS IT PUT THEM IN A POSITION WHERE THEY REALLY COULD SEE WHAT THE CHANGES WERE MOLECULARLY.

HAVING A ONE ON THE GROUND TO GIVE YOU A BASELINE SO TO SPEAK.

YOU DON'T USUALLY HAVE THAT.

IT'S VERY RARE, IT'S THE FIRST PAIR OF TWINS.

THEY WEREN'T SELECTED BECAUSE THEY WERE TWINS, THEY WERE BOTH NAVY TEST PILOTS.

I INTERVIEWED WITH MARK, I KNOW THESE GUYS A LONG TIME.

BUT TO GET BACK TO THE CHANGES THAT HAPPENED WITH SCOTT --

TELL US ABOUT THOSE GENE EXPRESSIONS.

SO PEOPLE UNDERSTAND.

ESSENTIALLY I THINK IT'S NOW BEEN BETTER EXPLAINED.

BUT CORRECT ME IF I'M WRONG, THEY'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT A CHANGE IN YOUR MOLECULAR AGGENEC STRUCT STRUCTURE.

IT'S HOW THE BODY RESPONDS IN DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENTS.

WHEN YOU GO INTO SPACE YOUR BODY IS GOING TO REACT DIFFERENTLY.

IT'S SIMILAR TO CHANGE WITH PEOPLE THEY HAVE SEEN UNDER SEA, HIGH ALTITUDE, MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS, PEOPLE WHO ARE POLAR EXPLORERS, BEING IN A DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENT, BECAUSE IT WAS A DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENT, COULD CHANGE THE WAY THE GENE CHANGES AT THE MOLECULAR LEVEL.

AND WITH SCOTT, WHILE THESE CHANGES ARE DIFFERENT FOR THAT YEAR IN SPACE, CHANGES IN OXYGEN LEVELS, CARBON MONOXIDE LEVELS, SPACE RADIATION AND SO ON.

PLUS STRESS LEVEL, BEING AWAY FROM HOME AND SO ON.

WHAT'S EXCITING ABOUT THIS IS THAT NASA NOW HAS THE TECHNIQUES AND HAS STARTED THIS NEW ERA OF NOT JUST LOOKING AT VITAL SIGNS BUT ALSO AT THE MOLECULAR LEVEL AND IF WE WANT TO SEND PEOPLE ON LONGER JOURNEYS TO OTHER PLANTS.

WE HEARD ABOUT THE PLANS TO GO TO MARS, THREE YEARS IN SPACE OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

MARS IS REALLY TOUGH.

IT'S REALLY TOUGH TO GET PEOPLE THERE, THAT'S WHY WE HAVEN'T DONE THAT YET.

I THINK WHAT'S MORE LIKELY AS OUR NEXT STEP FOR EXPLORATION, AFTER WE'RE FINISHED WITH THE SPACE STATION IS TO GO TO THE MOON.

BUT NOT JUST GO BACK FOR A QUICK VISIT AND TAKE SAMPLES, LIKE WE DID IN THE 60s AND EARLY 70s, BUT GO BACK AND ESTABLISH SOME SORT OF BASE.

AND BY DOING THAT, ESTABLISHING A PRESENCE ON THE MOON, WE'LL BE ABLE TO GET TO MARS QUICKLY.

WE ALWAYS UNDERSTAND THINGS BETTER WHEN WE GET TO CHAT WITH YOU.

MIKE, YOU BE WELL.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

TAKE CARE.

Funders

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