“I was a dorky kid,” Christopher Mason admits. “I went to Space Camp. I’d always been thinking about maybe being an astronaut.”

But not long after Space Camp, Mason discovered something even more seductive: DNA. He decided he wanted to be a geneticist instead.

Today, Mason is an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. Yet that dorky kid at Space Camp still lurks within.

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When Mason found out that NASA was planning a mission to study the DNA of astronauts, he leapt at the opportunity. Now he’s part of a team of scientists who are examining blood and other samples from astronaut Scott Kelly, who recently spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station. They’re looking at how life in space alters astronauts at a molecular level. They hope their discoveries can help protect astronauts on long-distance trips, such as the proposed mission to Mars.

For the latest episode of Science Happens!, I visit Mason’s lab to find out how an Earth-bound geneticist is getting to enjoy a connection to space: by studying astronaut DNA.

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