What happens to an astronaut’s brain during a mission to Mars? Nothing good. It’s besieged by destructive particles that can forever impair cognition, according to a UC Irvine radiation oncology study appearing in the May 1 edition of Science Advances.
Charles Limoli and colleagues found that exposure to highly energetic charged particles – much like those found in the galactic cosmic rays that bombard astronauts during extended spaceflights – cause significant damage to the central nervous system, resulting in cognitive impairments.
“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two- to three-year round trip to Mars,” said Limoli, a professor of radiation oncology in UCI’s School of Medicine. “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.”
For the study, rodents were subjected to charged particle irradiation (fully ionized oxygen and titanium) at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at the Brookhaven National Laboratory before being sent back to Limoli’s Irvine lab.