Galactic cosmic rays that will bombard astronauts during extended spaceflights caused significant long-term brain damage in test rodents.
As humans are aiming to venture out to Mars and beyond, it is necessary to fully understand and study the effects of deep space travel on human body. To find this, researchers have recently conducted experiments on most popular model system, the rodents. They exposed rodents to charged particle irradiation at NASA Space Radiation Laboratory in New York, replicating the extreme conditions of space. Six months after exposure, researchers found that rodents were showing high levels of brain damage, neural inflammation and impaired memory, reflecting that the prolonged missions to Mars can take a toll on astronaut’s brain too.
“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two-to-three-year round trip to. The space environment poses unique hazards to astronauts. Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel – such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression and impaired decision-making. Many of these adverse consequences to cognition may continue and progress throughout life.” Charles Limoli, a professor of radiation oncology in University of California School of Medicine said in a statement .
Space itself is a dangerous and hostile place to stay or live, but if we specifically talk about Mars the most harmful aspect of the planet is cosmic radiation. Earth has a magnetic field that protects us from harsh radiation coming from space, but outside this protective shield humans are at high risk of developing health issues. Even on the space station, astronauts receive ten times more radiation than what they get on Earth. So, atrip to Mars will be even more harmful, because the planet has no natural magnetic shield.
“The Mars mission will result in an inevitable exposure to cosmic radiation that has been shown to cause cognitive impairments in rodent models, and possibly in astronauts engaged in deep space travel.” The study published in journal Nature reveals.
In addition, researchers found that radiation affected the brain’s ability to suppress unpleasant or stressful associations and it could lead to anxiety.
“Deficits in fear extinction could make you prone to anxiety, which could become problematic over the course of a three-year trip to and from Mars.” Limoli said.
Further researches will help learn ways to mitigate those effects, which could otherwise make astronauts more susceptible to long-term health risks during extended spaceflights or exploration of deep space.