Scientists know about the new dangers of space travel

James Marshall
August 8, 2019

Exposure to low dose neutron radiation also contributed to "distress behaviours", which the experts believe will also affect human astronauts. A study published today (August 5) in the open-access journal eNeuro, has highlighted the need for better protection in space.

Previous studies looking at the effect of radiation on the brain have used shorter rates of exposure but higher doses of radiation, which the researchers of the new study say inaccurately reflects deep space conditions.

That's the conclusion reached by scientists from several US universities, who jointly studied the effects of chronic, low dose radiation on mice over six months.

Charles Limoli, the lead author of the study, and his colleagues exposed mice to radiation similar to that found in space over a period of six months.

Specifically, the researchers noted that long-term exposure to radiation impaired the signaling operations of the brain's prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.

The team also observed increased anxiety behaviors, indicating that the radiation also impacted the amygdala.

As a result, the researchers predict one-in-five astronauts on deep space missions will suffer anxiety. One in three would be more likely to deal with memory issues.

"Additionally, the astronauts may struggle with decision-making". According to these studies, space radiation affects astronauts once they venture out of Earth's orbit, which is no longer protected by the planet's magnetic field. Ensuring a spacecraft has the protective capabilities to keep the crew healthy (and happy) will be a major challenge, and radiation exposure will most definitely have to be accounted for.

Radiation is known to disrupt signaling among other processes in the brain.

But Limoli and his team aren't concerned about the potential for these impairments and behaviors during future missions. "The radiation problem is, however, perhaps one of the biggest problems we will have to solve for travel beyond our solar system - where the total doses and times of exposure will be greatly magnified". And there are other studies that suggest that long-term spaceflight actually "squeezes" the brain.

A visitor poses for photos with the spacesuit worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong during a late-night celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, in Washington D.C., the United States, on July 21, 2019.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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