Deep space travel might severely damage astronauts' brains

The Martian

The Martian

Chronic (6 month) low dose (18 cGy) and dose rate (192 mGy/day) exposures ... result in diminished hippocampal neuronal excitability and disrupted hippocampal and cortical long-term potentiation.

A new study revealed how radiation from deep space missions can affect the brain functions of astronauts. Because of this, the subjects displayed problems related to their memory and learning capabilities.

The study focuses on low-dose radiation exposure experiments in mice, and the researchers argue that their simulation is not only realistic but also rather frightening as NASA takes the first steps towards hashing out crewed missions to Mars.

This accurately reflected the conditions in space - unlike many other previous radiation studies, which relied on short-term, higher dose-rate exposures.

That's the conclusion reached by scientists from several US universities, who jointly studied the effects of chronic, low dose radiation on mice over six months.

Specifically, the researchers noted that long-term exposure to radiation impaired the signaling operations of the brain's prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. A study published today (August 5) in the open-access journal eNeuro, has highlighted the need for better protection in space. Given the natural aversion of mice to well-lit space, these behaviors suggested a rising anxiety degree triggered by neutron irradiation, the study said.

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"Our study represents the first to document the significant adverse consequences of space relevant radiation dose rates on the brain, and points to the heightened risks associated with NASA's upcoming plans for travel to Mars", said University of California, Irvine's Professor Charles Limoli and colleagues.

According to a study published on Monday, in a crew of five astronauts traveling to Mars, at least one member would possibly display anxiety-like behavior, while one in every 2.8 astronauts is likely to suffer from memory loss. Currently, astronauts on the International Space Station aren't exposed to much radiation because the station is in the protective habitat of low-Earth orbit.

Additionally, the astronauts may also struggle with decision-making.

'The space environment poses unique hazards to astronauts.

Earlier this year, the results of the NASA Twins Study showed that a year in space created reduced cognitive abilities in astronaut Scott Kelly.

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