Fundamental Biological Features of Spaceflight: Advancing the Field to Enable Deep-Space Exploration

Cell. 2020 Nov 25;183(5):1162-1184. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.10.050.


Research on astronaut health and model organisms have revealed six features of spaceflight biology that guide our current understanding of fundamental molecular changes that occur during space travel. The features include oxidative stress, DNA damage, mitochondrial dysregulation, epigenetic changes (including gene regulation), telomere length alterations, and microbiome shifts. Here we review the known hazards of human spaceflight, how spaceflight affects living systems through these six fundamental features, and the associated health risks of space exploration. We also discuss the essential issues related to the health and safety of astronauts involved in future missions, especially planned long-duration and Martian missions.

Keywords: DNA damage; aerospace medicine; epigenetic; microbiome; mitochondria; multi-omics; oxidative stress; space biology; spaceflight; telomere.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Astronauts
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Microbiota
  • Risk Factors
  • Space Flight*