Study: Space radiations on Mars may damage astronauts’ brains
Mice exposed for six months to the radiation levels prevalent in interplanetary space exhibited serious memory and learning impairments, and they became more anxious and fearful as well, suggests a combined study conducted by UCI's Department of Radiation Oncology and Stanford University's Department of Neurosurgery.
The study is jointly conducted by Munjal Acharya, Janet Baulch and Peter Klein.
"This is not a deal-breaker for space travel, but when you send astronauts up there, you have to be prepared for what some of the consequences are for being exposed to these radiation fields," says one of the researchers.
Researchers investigating the effects of deep-space radiation exposed 40 mice to 1 milligray of radiation per day (1 mGy/day) for six months, about the same dose and duration that astronauts would experience on a trip to or from Mars.
The researchers analyzed the behavior of these mice over the course of the study, measuring the animals' ability to learn and remember information, their willingness to interact with new mice introduced into their enclosure, and other variables. And at the end of the six months, the scientists euthanized the mice and studied their brains, looking for physiological changes.
The results were striking. Radiation-exposed mice exhibited more stress behaviors and a decreased ability to learn and remember.
The trip to Mars takes six to nine months one way with current propulsion technology. So, these results should ring a cautionary bell for NASA and other organizations that aim to send people to the Red Planet, study team members said.