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Home / Science / A trip to Mars can lead to brain damage. That's how NASA wants to protect astronauts.

A trip to Mars can lead to brain damage. That's how NASA wants to protect astronauts.



During Scott Kelly's space year, the astronaut was relentlessly jagged by radiation – equivalent to 10 x-rays per day for more than 11 months from March 2015. The onset damaged Kelly's DNA, affecting his immune system and increasing his risk for cancer. And Kelly was aboard the International Space Station, whose orbit around the Earth is within the magnetic field that surrounds our planet and blocks the most damaging forms of radiation.

Astronauts traveling to Mars or other space destinations will leave Earth's shelter cocoon for months or years at a time. And a new NASA-funded study suggests that chronic radiation exposure can damage both the mind and body of astronauts ̵

1; potentially affecting the mood of space travelers and even their thinking ability.

That could be a big deal.

"The nature of the radiation environment in space will not stop us from traveling to Mars, but it could be the biggest obstacle humanity has to solve to travel beyond Earth orbit," the researchers wrote in their study published on August 5th in the journal ENeuro.

The Earth's magnetic field protects the planet from solar radiation. Steele Hill / NASA

Dr. Munjal Acharya, a radio oncologist at the University of California, Irvine, and principal author of the study, said radiation exposure "affects cognitive function and behavior at the cellular level," adding that exposure could make it difficult for astronauts unforeseen events effectively respond to circumstances or stressful situations.

The study suggests that at least one in five astronauts sent to Mars would return with severe deficits in cognitive function.

Stressed Rodents

For the study – the first to simulate the radiation that astronauts were exposed to on a mission to Mars – Acharya and his staff exposed 40 mice to radiation for six months and then tested the animals' memory and behavior.

One test found that mice exposed to radiation were less capable, others showed that the exposed mice were so concerned that they "froze" in situations where they did not. The control animals were not worried.

"This fear was so great that they were still frozen," Acharya said, adding that the radiation seemed to make it hard for the mice to learn and adapt by making connections between different regions of the world Brain of the animals weaken.


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