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When flying to Mars, make sure to monitor and enhance brain function (radiation exposure can hurt performance)

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Could a trip to Mars fry astro­nauts’ brains? (The Wash­ing­ton Post):

Brain dam­age. Mem­o­ry dete­ri­o­ra­tion. Intel­li­gence loss. This could be your brain on a trip to Mars…The find­ing, pub­lished in the open-source jour­nal Sci­ence Advances this month, could throw a wrench in the many ambi­tious mis­sions aimed at send­ing humans to Earth’s near­est neigh­bor­ing plan­et…

…a decline in brain func­tion is espe­cial­ly prob­lem­at­ic for any­one trav­el­ing to Mars, since the 100 mil­lion or so miles a mes­sage must trav­el to reach Earth caus­es a 20-minute delay in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Astro­nauts need to be able to fig­ure things out quick­ly and on their own…

But aero­space engi­neer Robert Zubrin, pres­i­dent of the Mars Soci­ety and an advis­er to Mars One, says that the study’s find­ings have been blown way out of pro­por­tion. Rather than admin­is­ter small amounts of radi­a­tion slow­ly over the course of many months, the researchers in the mouse study bom­bard­ed their sub­jects with 30 months’ worth of radi­a­tion in the course of about 30 sec­onds.”

Limoli isn’t call­ing his find­ing a “show stop­per” either, he told Sci­ence mag­a­zine. It’s just “some­thing NASA needs to con­sid­er,” he said.”

Study: What hap­pens to your brain on the way to Mars (Sci­ence Advances)

  • Abstract: As NASA pre­pares for the first manned space­flight to Mars, ques­tions have sur­faced con­cern­ing the poten­tial for increased risks asso­ci­at­ed with expo­sure to the spec­trum of high­ly ener­getic nuclei that com­prise galac­tic cos­mic rays. Ani­mal mod­els have revealed an unex­pect­ed sen­si­tiv­i­ty of mature neu­rons in the brain to charged par­ti­cles found in space. Astro­naut auton­o­my dur­ing long-term space trav­el is par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal as is the need to prop­er­ly man­age planned and unan­tic­i­pat­ed events, activ­i­ties that could be com­pro­mised by accu­mu­lat­ing par­ti­cle tra­ver­sals through the brain. Using mice sub­ject­ed to space-rel­e­vant flu­ences of charged par­ti­cles, we show sig­nif­i­cant cor­ti­cal- and hip­pocam­pal-based per­for­mance decre­ments 6 weeks after acute expo­sure. Ani­mals man­i­fest­ing cog­ni­tive decre­ments exhib­it­ed marked and per­sis­tent radi­a­tion-induced reduc­tions in den­drit­ic com­plex­i­ty and spine den­si­ty along medi­al pre­frontal cor­ti­cal neu­rons known to medi­ate neu­ro­trans­mis­sion specif­i­cal­ly inter­ro­gat­ed by our behav­ioral tasks. Sig­nif­i­cant increas­es in post­sy­nap­tic den­si­ty pro­tein 95 (PSD-95) revealed major radi­a­tion-induced alter­ations in synap­tic integri­ty. Impaired behav­ioral per­for­mance of indi­vid­ual ani­mals cor­re­lat­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly with reduced spine den­si­ty and trend­ed with increased synap­tic punc­ta, there­by pro­vid­ing quan­ti­ta­tive mea­sures of risk for devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive decre­ments. Our data indi­cate an unex­pect­ed and unique sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem to space radi­a­tion expo­sure, and argue that the under­ly­ing radi­a­tion sen­si­tiv­i­ty of del­i­cate neu­ronal struc­ture may well pre­dis­pose astro­nauts to unin­tend­ed mis­sion-crit­i­cal per­for­mance decre­ments and/or longer-term neu­rocog­ni­tive seque­lae.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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