Mars Astronauts May Suffer Brain Damage from Cosmic Ray Exposure

Friday, 01 May 2015 - 5:01PM
Mars
Friday, 01 May 2015 - 5:01PM
Mars Astronauts May Suffer Brain Damage from Cosmic Ray Exposure
Many have already concluded that Mars One is an unfeasible scam, as we have not yet perfected the technologies that would allow us to reach the Red Planet, nor have we devised a way to prevent settlers from suffocating within 68 days. But, as it turns out, even after we solve all of these problems, Mars astronauts may still have to worry about suffering brain damage as a result of long-term exposure to cosmic rays.



For the study, a team of researchers exposed mice to a steady stream of high-energy particles, a similar level of radiation that would be experienced by astronauts traveling to Mars. The radiation caused damage to the mice's brains that would be devastating on a Mars mission, not mention general quality of life.

They experienced severe brain inflammation, which impaired their neurons' ability to conduct signals. Six weeks later, further testing showed that their number of synapses had decreased, similar to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. The mice who were exposed to the radiation experience symptoms of cognitive deficits compared to the control mice, including confusion, memory loss, and disorientation.

"This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two- to three-year round trip to Mars," co-author Charles Limoli told The Guardian. "Performance decrements, memory deficits, and loss of awareness and focus during spaceflight may affect mission-critical activities, and exposure to these particles may have long-term adverse consequences to cognition throughout life."

"The present data do demonstrate that there is some likelihood of developing certain radiation-induced cognitive deficits," the authors wrote in their paper, published in Science Advances. "Although the impairment of neurocognitive performance is undesirable in any circumstance, the impact of such decrements on the success of a deep space mission is likely to be especially problematic."

Although this study seems to throw a major wrench in NASA's journey to Mars, Limoli insists that the effects may not be as pronounced in humans, and that precautions would simply need to be taken.

"This is not a deal breaker but it represents an issue NASA needs to prepare for," said Limoli. "It could develop into performance-based decrements and elevated anxiety and affect the ability to problem solve. These effects are likely to be subtle, however, and would not preclude our efforts to plan future manned deep space missions."


Science
Space
Mars