Study Claiming Apollo Astronauts More Likely To Have Heart Issues Has A Big Flaw

(REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Florida State University researchers published a study with a stunning finding: Apollo astronauts are more likely to die from heart attacks likely due to their space radiation. But a close look at the study shows its mainline findings had more shock value than actual science.

Researchers found Apollo astronauts were the only category of astronauts surveyed who are more likely to die of a heart attack than the general population, but the study only looked at 35 astronauts — only seven of whom flew in the Apollo missions. The FSU study also relied on exposing mice to radiation in a vacuum to draw their conclusion Apollo astronaut’s time in space caused them to die of heart attacks.

Despite these issues, the first line of study’s press release stated that “[m]embers of the successful Apollo space program are experiencing higher rates of cardiovascular problems that are thought to be caused by their exposure to deep space radiation.” The release states that Apollo astronauts were four to five times more likely to develop heart issues than non-flight astronauts and astronauts who have traveled in low Earth orbit.

“It is a small sample size and you have to be cautious about drawing any firm conclusions, even though we are speculating that its due to radiation. We don’t know the cause of the risk of heart disease.” Dr. Michael Delp, a cardiovascular physiology scientist at FSU and one of the paper’s authors, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There are some major questions outstanding and this study just barely scratches the surface; this one mouse study took us over a year just to do the experiments.”

Delp’s research examined Apollo astronaut Ron Evans, who died of a heart attack in his sleep at age 56 and astronaut James Irwin, who died of a heart attack in 1991 at the age of 61. Additionally, astronaut Neil Armstrong died after complications from cardiovascular surgery in 2012 at the age of 82. Armstrong’s death was due to a cardiovascular issue, according to Delp when questioned by TheDCNF.

“We used higher doses of radiation on the mice than what the Apollo astronauts were exposed to based on estimates of the radiation exposure levels of going to Mars,” Dr. Delp told The DCNF.

The research examined 35 non-flight astronauts and 35 others who only went to Low-Earth-Orbit, and compared their cause of death to a population reference group of 338,127 Americans between the ages of 55 and 64. Of the astronauts, nine and 11 percent respectively died of cardiovascular disease while 27 percent of the general population died of it. Since three of the seven Apollo astronaut’s deaths were from cardiovascular disease, the research found that Apollo astronauts were statistically much more likely to die from heart issues than other astronauts of the general population.

Parts of NASA are extremely skeptical of the research.

“Those numbers are really small,” Mark Shelhamer, NASA’s former chief scientist for human research, told The Washington Post. “If things had just by random chance to come out to be one more or one fewer death in any of those populations, the conclusions would have been completely different.”

Of the 77 NASA astronauts who have died, almost five times as many died in accidents as from problems with their heart or blood vessels. “I’d be very cautious,” about drawing any conclusions from such a small data set, Shelhamer added.

Heart attacks are fairly uncommon in astronauts who tend to have much higher levels of fitness than the general population, but roughly 610,000 Americans die of heart disease each year. That’s the equivalent of 27 percent of all deaths.

The research was funded by National Space and Biomedical Research Institute and the NASA Space Biology Program. It was published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

The remaining Apollo astronauts who have walked on the moon are Buzz Aldrin (age 86), Alan Bean (age 83), David Scott (age 83), John W. Young (age 85), Charles Duke (age 80), Eugene Cernan (age 81) and Harrison Schmitt (age 80.) Every living person to walk on the moon is past the average American life expectancy of 79 years.

Attempts to get some new moonwalkers, however, aren’t going well. President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are more interested in funding global warming science than going back to the Moon. Obama has repeatedly attempted to cut the parts of NASA that focus on science and exploration, so that money could be redirected to global warming research.

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