A research study on mice points that extended radiation exposure can permanently damage the brain, on Friday.
Damage from central nervous system and cognitive impairments were seen in lab rats that were given exposure to high energetically charged particles, akin to the stellar cosmic rays astronauts would meet during long space flights, aid researchers at the University of California said.
“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two- to three-year round trip to Mars. 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, ” lead author Charles Limoli, a radiation professor of oncology in UCI’s School of Medicine said.
The world’s astronauts currently have a shifting rotation lasting up to six months at the International Space Station.
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and US astronaut Scott Kelly began the first one year mission at the orbiting research outpost to test the body and mind impact of longer spaceflights, in March.
NASA aims to send people to Mars by the year 2030, the technology is not yet ready for such an ambitious endeavor, skeptics say, nor is it clear if it would be safe for people to undertake.
The journal Science Advances subjected the lab mouse to charged particle irradiation at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, for six weeks.
This process ionized oxygen fully and titanium led to inflammation of the brain, which disrupted transmission signals among neurons, the study said.
The radiation in the brain’s communication network caused impairment and interfered with the ability of the nerve cells to transmit signals.
“Like a bullet, charged particles hit dendritic branches and caused them to break off. It’s well known that losing these dendritic branches is linked to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s and other diseases,” said the study
Learning and memory tests also exhibited that irradiated mice poorly performed and were prone to confusion, as compared to normal lab rats.
The study said, “Radiation-exposed animals lacked curiosity (and were less active) in new situations and became more easily confused. If the neuronal changes shown to occur in mice occur in astronauts, their response to unforeseen situations, along with their ability to spatially reason and recall information may be impaired.”
Similar mental problems in humans, may take months to develop, but any mission to Mars could possibly take at a year and a half at the least, or possibly longer.