Slowing Aging Could Transform Society As We Know It

A young woman portrayed next to her old counterpart.

(© Valentina R./Fotolia)

People's lives have been getting longer for more than a century. In 1900, in even the wealthiest countries, life expectancy was under 50, according to the World Health Organization. By 2015, the worldwide average was 74, and a girl born in Japan that year could expect to live to 87. Most of that extra lifespan came from improvements in nutrition and sanitation, and the development of vaccines and antibiotics.

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Neil Savage
Neil Savage writes about science and technology from Lowell, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in Nature, Discover, Scientific American, Cell, IEEE Spectrum, and Chemical & Engineering News, among others. A former newspaper reporter, he received an MS in Science Journalism from Boston University.neilsavagewrite
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Sarah Philip
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Astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency displays Extra Dwarf Pak Choi plants growing aboard the International Space Station. The plants were grown for the Veggie study which is exploring space agriculture as a way to sustain astronauts on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

Johnson Space Center/NASA

Astronauts at the International Space Station today depend on pre-packaged, freeze-dried food, plus some fresh produce thanks to regular resupply missions. This supply chain, however, will not be available on trips further out, such as the moon or Mars. So what are astronauts on long missions going to eat?

Going by the options available now, says Christel Paille, an engineer at the European Space Agency, a lunar expedition is likely to have only dehydrated foods. “So no more fresh product, and a limited amount of already hydrated product in cans.”

For the Mars mission, the situation is a bit more complex, she says. Prepackaged food could still constitute most of their food, “but combined with [on site] production of certain food products…to get them fresh.” A Mars mission isn’t right around the corner, but scientists are currently working on solutions for how to feed those astronauts. A number of boundary-pushing efforts are now underway.

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Payal Dhar
Payal is a writer based in New Delhi who has been covering science, technology, and society since 1998.