A recent study by UC-Irvine found harmful effects of long term space travel on the human body. Galactic cosmic rays cause cognitive problems, including chronic dementia.
Space radiation can damage neural tissue and hurt cognitive function. The brain recovers slowly from exposure. This is a real concern for NASA. Space is filled with high-energy particles of all kinds that damages cells, but the Earth’s magnetic field shields us from most of them. As humans venture further out into space, attempting trips to Mars by the mid-2030s, the risks to long-term spaceflight must be understood.
The NASA Twins Study compared the changes to former astronaut Scott Kelly’s body after a year in space to his twin brother and fellow astronaut Mark Kelly. Those working on the International Space Station are not exposed to the high levels of galactic rays because it is within the Earth’s magnetosphere.
Researchers had already found the changes in the brains of rodents after six weeks of space-level radiation exposure. The new study tests long-term exposure. Mice and rats were exposed to fully ionized oxygen and titanium particles at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Labs in Long Island, NY. The rodents were then sent to the lab at UC Irvine. Six months after exposure, the rodents were still suffering from brain inflammation and neural damage.
Astronauts exposed to these high radiation fields may be at high risk for impairments that could impact the mission. Decision-making, multitasking, and responding to stressful events would be impacted. This is not something you need in unexpected or emergency situations. The rodents performed poorly on learning and memory tests.
Space is the final frontier. Exploration should not be deterred by the fear of cosmic radiation exposure. Researchers are already working on designing spacecraft to have areas of high-shielding, as well as finding chemical compounds to help human bodies protect themselves from the damaging effects of radiation.
Khan, Amina. “Cosmic radiation may leave astronauts with long-term cases of ‘space brain,’ study says.” Science. The Los Angeles Times, 12 Oct 2016. Web. 13 Oct 2016.