Breakthrough Study Reveals That Life in Space Isn't As Dangerous As Previously Thought

The coolest job in the solar system just got even cooler.

Needless to say, being an astronaut is dangerous. While they may not get hit with asteroid debris as often as blockbuster movies would have you believe, things do go wrong. (Though all in all, it's less dangerous than some field: in total, 18 astronauts have reportedly died during spaceflight.)

Still, launching into the cosmos yields other invisible perils, such as radiation, which could cause cancer, cataracts or vision impairment, and other degenerative diseases, according to NASA. But because space exploration is a relatively new phenomenon, there hasn't been enough research to determine the longitudinal health effects of spending time outside of the earth's atmosphere, until now at least.

A new study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine has revealed the results of almost 60 years of data on American male astronauts and professional athletes. The reason these two groups were chosen for comparative purposes was because both are infamously required to be in peak physical shape, make above-average salaries, and have excellent healthcare, and would therefore make it easiest to determine how much of an effect space has on longevity when all other health factors are more or less the same.

"The challenge has always been to understand if astronauts are as healthy as they would be had they been otherwise comparably employed but had never gone to space at all," Dr. Robert J. Reynolds, the director of research for Mortality Research & Consulting and co-author of the study, told Voice of America . "To do this, we needed to find a group that is comparable on several important factors, but has never been to space."

Surprisingly, they found that in spite of the radiation and the emotional and physical toll of the work involved, astronauts have a lower risk of premature death from heart disease and other natural causes than the general population. In fact, their mortality rates were more or less in line with those of professional athletes from Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association between 1960 and mid-2018.

The risk of mortality due to cancer was more or less the same as those of professional athletes, leading the researchers to believe that space radiation may not need to be as much of a concern as previously thought. And, more surprising still, the astronauts actually had lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease than the athletes.

Of course, the study can't verifiably conclude that we'll all be healthier if we move to the moon one day, and it's limited by the fact that it didn't include women. But what we earth-dwellers can definitely take away from it is that, if you want to live a long and healthy life, your external circumstances don't matter nearly as much as how well you take care of your body.

After all, the researchers believe that the reason pro-athletes and astronauts tend to outlive us is primarily because they make healthy lifestyle choices. By and large, they don't smoke or drink to excess, and they exercise regularly. Plus, they're gainfully employed in a job that they love, which studies have shown make people live longer than those who can't find work, a phenomenon known as the "healthy worker effect." But if you're curious about some of the more bonkers aspects of the gig, learn about these 27 Insane Things Astronauts Have to Do.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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