As NASA prepares for its highly anticipated 2030s mission to Mars and astronauts are expected to make it through at least six months of space travel just to reach the Red Planet, a group of German researchers have set out to investigate why astronauts end up having thinner skin while they live off of the planet.
For the project, the research team has used skin imaging tomography of a very high resolution and looked into skin cells from several astronauts both before and after they took a trip into outer space.
Karsten Koenig, project leader and professor from Saarland University’s Department of Biophotonics and Laser Technology, gave a statement explaining that he and his team used femtosecond laser pulses, which allowed them to scan the astronauts’ skin and receive signals from it, especially fluorescence and second harmonic generation.
He went on to add that these to signals are enough for the researchers to build up images in order to get a good look inside the skin. An important detail is that the resolution they get with the laser technology that they’re busing is one thousand times better than what they would get if they were using ultrasound.
The technology also marks an advancement in the field as normally researches would have had to take biopsies and wait for a pathologist to look through the samples. But the new laser allows field experts to simply scan and receive the information that they need in just a few short seconds and without wasting much energy.
Professor Koenig went on to inform that NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency) approached his team and asked them if there’s a way to look inside astronauts’ skin because they wanted to know whether or not an aging process was taking place and what exactly are the changes that occur inside an astronaut’s body when they spend six months living in outer space.
So far the researchers have scanned three (3) astronauts and have found that their bodies produce a great deal of collagen. What this means is that there is an anti-aging process that takes place at least in “the lower part of the skin”, in the dermis. On top of this, the epidermis is also shrinking, which causes the astronauts’ skin to get thinner.
Professor Koenig and his team have no explanation so far for why this is happening, however they have every intention of continuing the investigation, and hopefully finding a way to stop the epidermis from shrinking as much as 20 percent (20%).
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