When Millie Hughes-Fulford, a molecular biologist and former astronaut, had an experiment flown on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2006, she and European colleagues helped resolve what had been a mystery: Why did more than half of all the Apollo astronauts acquire infections within a week of their return to Earth? Some reasoned that it was due to stress, and others to in-flight radiation, but her experiment proved that weightlessness had caused astronauts’ T lymphocytes to malfunction and had thus lowered their immune response.

This month another Hughes-Fulford experiment is scheduled to fly to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s Dragon cargo delivery vehicle. Using more sophisticated technology, she and her colleagues will be looking for specific genes that regulate T cells, hoping to find targets for drugs that will not only prevent space-travel infections but also help immune-compromised individuals on Earth.

The Obama administration’s decision to extend operation of the...

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