OCT 18, 2016 7:34 AM PDT

Will Martian Astronauts Have to Battle With Dementia?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Without a doubt it’s of high interest to land human beings on the red planet for the first time. Space agencies are talking about it every day, and so are the commercial rocket companies that want to help us get there.
 
Boeing and SpaceX are both on-board with it, and NASA has a pretty good idea of how they’re going to make it happen, but it’s still not going to happen for another couple of decades or longer.
 
Nevertheless, should we be considering the negative side effects that putting human beings on another planet besides Earth might have for them? According to a study published in Nature Scientific Reports, astronauts put on Mars may suffer from dementia and cognitive dysfunction as a result of being bombarded from the charged particles found in cosmic rays.
 

Space Brain

 Image Credit: Getty Images

The effects were first seen in rodents that were subjected to charged particles at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory for long periods of time. Neuro scans revealed long-term brain damage to the parts of their brains that would deal specifically with memory. Even six months after, inflammation and other problems were present.
 
“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two-to-three-year round trip to Mars,” said Charles Limoli, the professor of radiation oncology in UCI’s School of Medicine.
 
“The space environment poses unique hazards to astronauts. Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel – such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression and impaired decision-making. Many of these adverse consequences to cognition may continue and progress throughout life.”
 
Mars doesn’t have a very thick atmosphere like the Earth does, and as a result, anything on its surface is relatively vulnerable to the different kinds of harmful light rays that could harm human beings.
 
Obviously, Mars-based astronauts will live inside of habitation modules with pressurized air and radiation protection, and will wear special space suits any time they venture outside of that module, but still it’s only going to protect them so much.
 
But even then, that’s not where most of the risk is posed. Much of that comes from the space in between the Earth and Mars, where there’s no longer any magnetosphere to protect astronauts during transit. It would take a long time for a spacecraft to travel from Earth to Mars, and this is where most of the hazard occurs.
 
Some of the things we can do include increasing the amount of shielding on parts of the spacecraft where astronauts will sleep or spend long periods of time, but other things are being explored as well. Preventative medicines that could help with astronauts’ immunity to these possible mental side effects are also being looked into.

Source: University of California, Irvine

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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