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SpaceX’s Inspiration4 Mission Used to Learn More on How Space Travel Affects the Human Body

During their three day flight, the Inspiration4 crew participated in extensive scientific experiments.


Inspiration4 crew members Sian Procter (left) and Hayley Arceneaux in space (credit:Inspiration4 crew)

SpaceX’s Inspiration4 civilian mission a few years ago has provided a wealth of knowledge as to the effects of space on the human body. This first all-civilian crew ventured on a short, high-altitude orbit (575 km), exceeding the typical orbit of the ISS (120-365 day missions). During their three day flight, the Inspiration4 crew participated in extensive scientific experiments. The data from these experiments show that astronauts undergo physiological changes while in space, even when there for short periods of time as opposed to extended stays like on the International Space Station.

The Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA) published an online archive of the data collected from Inspiration4. SOMA said it collected and analyzed a “comprehensive set of longitudinal multiomics data from the astronauts that span pre-, in-, and post-flight periods. “These results and datasets are made available as a resource for all related biomedical and spaceflight research.

The SOMA package marks a significant leap forward in several areas of spaceflight biology. It boasts a dramatic increase in the amount of next-generation sequencing (NGS) data (over 10 times more), a quadrupling of the number of single-cell analyses performed, and the establishment of several groundbreaking resources. These include the first dedicated aerospace medicine biobank (CAMbank at Weill Cornell Medicine), the first-ever direct RNA sequencing data collected from astronauts, the largest collection of processed biological samples from a single mission (2,911), and the pioneering collection of spatially-resolved transcriptome data from astronauts.

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One example of what the Inspiration4 data showed was how being in space affected women differently than men.

SOMA reported that T-cells and monocyte cells showed the largest degree of chromatin changes in the immune system after spaceflight and female crew members had a faster return to baseline across all cell types for their chromatin landscape (ATAC-seq) than male astronauts (Kim et al.).

Inspiration4 marked the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit. The Crew Dragon capsule Resilience launched on 16 September 2021 and landed on 18 September 2021.

The mission was commanded by Jared Isaacman, the then-38-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer. Inspiration4 departed Earth from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A, the embarkation point for Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, and traveled across a low-Earth orbit on a three-day journey that eclipsed more than 90% of Earth’s population. Named in recognition of the four-person crew that raised awareness and over $240 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, this milestone represented a new era for human spaceflight and exploration.

Sian Proctor, a community college professor who teaches geoscience and was one of the four Inspiration4 team members, told the New York Times, “I just feel that there’s more good than harm that comes from me being able to share my information and for science to progress and learn.”



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