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Scientists have discovered more about why space travel makes astronauts anaemic when they return to Earth.
Canadian researchers say 50% more red blood cells are destroyed in space and this continues for however long the mission lasts.
As a result, long voyages to the Moon, Mars and beyond may be a challenge, they say.
But their insights could benefit bedridden patients on Earth with the same condition.
“Space anaemia” is something scientists have known about since the very first missions returned to Earth – but exactly why it happens has been a mystery.
Now a small University of Ottawa study of 14 astronauts – including Britain’s Tim Peake – on six-month stays at the International Space Station, has found out more.
Using blood and breath samples taken during their missions, the researchers were able to measure red blood cell loss. These cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body – and are the key to life.
“Our study shows that upon arriving in space, more red blood cells are destroyed, and this continues for the entire duration of the astronaut’s mission,” said Dr Guy Trudel, lead researcher and hospital physician.
While in space, because of weightlessness, this isn’t an issue – but back on Earth it means astronauts have reduced bone mass and muscle strength, and feel very tired.
Three million red blood cells are destroyed per second in space, compared to two million on