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Why is NASA taking astaxanthin to space?

David Foreman|Share

It was only a matter of time until NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration U.S.A.) began to study the benefits of taking microalgae into space.  Consider the resilience of microalgae combined with the many potential health benefits they can provide to the astronauts.  Recently, NASA has been testing the growth of microalgae in space for its potential use during long-duration space missions as a source of nutrition, oxygen, waste removal and potentially biofuel.

In a quote from NASA they explain why they are so eager to look at algae use in space; “Algae have long been known to offer a number of benefits to support long duration human space exploration. Algae contain proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins, and lipids needed for human consumption, and can be produced using waste streams, while consuming carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen. In comparison with higher plants, algae have higher growth rates, fewer environmental requirements, produce far less waste tissue, and are resistant to digestion and/or biodegradation. As an additional benefit, algae produce many components (fatty acids, H2, etc.) which are useful as biofuels.”[i]

Of the microalgae being looked at, two rise to the top; Chlorella vulgaris and Haematococcus pluvialis. Chlorella is used in biofuels, animal feed, aquaculture, human nutrition, wastewater treatment and bio-fertilizer in agriculture.  Haematococcus pluvialis (HP) is used for the potent antioxidant astaxanthin it produces when stressed. Astaxanthin is the pigment that gives shrimp, salmon, fruits, and vegetables their bright color.  Researchers believe growing and then consuming this powerful antioxidant that it would help keep astronaut’s bodies health for the long-duration space missions.

Here is what the NASA website says exactly;  “a fresh supply of astaxanthin on board could potentially be a preventative measure against:

  • Effects of radiation exposure[ii]– research shows that antioxidants such as astaxanthin can provide preventive or potential therapeutic value in response to long-term diseases that may develop following exposure to ionizing radiation deriving from outer space.
  • Eye damage caused by bodily fluid pressure[iii]– Astaxanthin does this because it crosses the blood-retinal barrier and therefore protects they eyes. It also helps protect the eye against fatigue, depth perception and increases blood flow to eye tissues.
  • Damage to the overall cardiovascular system[iv]– Results from multiple species support the antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties of astaxanthin, establishing it as an appropriate candidate for development as a therapeutic agent for cardiovascular oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • Bone loss[v]-A recent study examined the impact that astaxanthin has on bone loss and health. The results demonstrated that astaxanthin inhibits osteoclast (large cells that dissolve the bone).”

Other than NASA’s comments on the use of astaxanthin derived from microalgae, considerations should be made for the use of the whole algae or whole food form such as that grown in the Arava Desert in Southern Israel by Algatech.  Yes, astaxanthin alone is a powerful nutritional advantage, but using the whole food powder takes this nutrient to a whole new level.  AstaPure® Arava is the whole food microalgae form of astaxanthin which not only contains the health benefits of astaxanthin, but also contains naturally occurring nutrients including vitamins and minerals, polysaccharides and fibers, essential amino acids, and essential fatty acids.  Dr. Gitte Jensen (NIS labs, Oregon USA), identified that the AstaPure Arava whole algae powder properties includes highly potent complexes synergetic with the natural astaxanthin.  The study showed significant results affecting activity of the innate immune system (immune cells that attack foreign cells i.e. bacteria, viruses, abnormal cells, etc.)  cell regeneration and mitochondria (the energy factory of each cell) function.  The healthy fats (lipids, essential fatty acids) provide benefit through the  omega-3 ALA which is well known for being essential for overall health and wellbeing.


Stop and consider this: If NASA thinks that Haematococcus pluvialisis essential for the astronauts and their long-distance missions, it should also be considered as a primary nutritional addition to all of the general public.  Just like the astronauts, we live stressful lives and have the same health concerns here on earth.  Our busy lives, exposure to radiation when we fly, exposure to blue light from our smartphones and computer monitors, etc. are all areas of concern.  Throw in the benefits to the whole body with the whole food complex found we can all use this type of nutritional support.  Consider this another interesting connection; these highly nutritious microalgae produce their benefits due to stress and we need those same nutrients to help our bodies deal with the stressors mentioned above.

Lastly, the cultivation of Haematococcus pluvialison Earth and now in space have a very similar story.  The above mentioned AstaPure® Arava powder is grown successfully in the harsh, hot and dry environment found in the Arava desert in southern Israel.  Granted the environment in space is not hot, but it is the “stress” put on this microalgae that makes it produce the powerful, life-protecting antioxidant, astaxanthin.  It is for this “stress” reason that NASA thinks that the lack of gravity will provide the environmental stress to stimulate the microalgae to produce astaxanthin and provide the nutrient rich benefits that this little powerhouse can produce.


[ii]Giardi M, Touloupakis E, Bertolotto D, Mascetti G, International Journal of Molecular Sciences 2013 Aug; 14(8): 17168–17192  doi: 10.3390/ijms140817168

[iii] Ekpe L, Inaku K, Ekpe V, Antioxidant effects of astaxanthin in various diseases—a review, Journal of Molecular Pathophysiology, 2018 VOL 7, NO. 1, PAGE 1–6 10.5455/jmp.20180627120817

[iv] Pashkow F, Watumull D, Campbell C, Astaxanthin: A Novel Potential Treatment for Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Cardiovascular Disease The American Journal of Cardiology Volume 101, Issue 10, Supplements, 22 May 2008, Pages S58-S68

[v]Hwang Y, Kim K, Kim S, Mun S, et. al., Suppression Effect of Astaxanthin on Osteoclast Formation In Vitro and Bone Loss In Vivo International Journal of Molecular Sciences 2018 Mar; 19(3): 912.


David Foreman

David Foreman, A.k.a The Herbal Pharmacist shifted from traditional pharmacist to herbal pharmacist because he realized the vital role natural medicine plays in all health outcomes. David’s focus is to use all forms of media to educate on the benefits of herbs, vitamins, healthy lifestyle choices and the role they play in health. David is currently a part of the Scientific Advisory Board for Organic & Natural Health Association.

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