Highly energetic particles in space, cosmic rays, bombarding the astronauts’ brain in a voyage to Mars can cause significant nervous damages, according to a recent California University study, published in the journal Science Advances.
“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two- to three-year round trip to Mars,” said Charles Limoli, a professor of radiation oncology in UCI’s School of Medicine.
“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.”
Limoli and his colleagues used rodents for the study and subjected them to charged particle irradiation at a NASA Space Radiation Lab.
When mice brought back to Limoli’s lab in Irvine, the researchers found that exposure to these particles resulted in brain inflammation, disrupting brain’s communication network, which in turn causing decreased learning and memory functions.
According to Limoli, people in a mission such as Mars, which would take at least two and half years, would face the same risks.
"Astronauts may incur cognitive impairments that lead to performance decrements, confusion, increased anxiety and longer-term problems with cognitive health," said Limoli.
Limoli and his friends work is pivotal for the effects of long-term space exploration, such as manned missions to Mars planning in the 2030s.
Although Mars-bound pioneers cannot be fully isolated from cosmic rays, remnants of star explosions called supernovas, Lima said it’s possible to design spacecrafts including areas with high protective shielding.