Even though SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes humans could one day populate Mars, recent research now suggests that that astronauts who travel there may arrive with brain damage.
According to a research which was carried out by scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), rodents exposed to highly energetic charged particles such as those found in the galactic cosmic rays that would hit space explorers during a mission to Mars, led to serious long-term brain damage involving “cognitive impairments and dementia.”
Tests were carried out at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at New York’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, after the test, it was discovered that parts of the brain tasked with learning and memory functions remained impaired six months after the rodents were exposed to the particles.
Professor Charles Limoli of the UCI’s School of Medicine said “The space environment poses unique hazards to astronauts. Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel – such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression and impaired decision-making. Many of these adverse consequences to cognition may continue and progress throughout life.”
It was also discovered that the radiation also affected what’s known as “fear extinction.” This particular brain process allows you to overcome a traumatic event, for example even after a near drowning experience one could confidently return to water.
Deficits in fear extinction could make you prone to anxiety, which could become problematic over the course of a three-year trip to and from Mars – Charles Limoli.
Scientists are currently exploring ways to increase shielding on spacecraft. However, the professor admitted that cosmic rays would still be able to penetrate solid objects to some extent and so astronauts would be unlikely to completely escape their effects. An additional strategy is looking at drug-based solutions that destroy harmful free radicals and protect neurotransmission. This seems to be inevitable unless someone works out how to protect space travelers from the damaging effects of prolonged cosmic ray exposure.
Tesla CEO, Elon Musk believes that creating a self-sustaining city on Mars can maximize life of humanity;
I think the most important thing is to create a self-sustaining city on Mars. That’s i think the critical thing for maximizing the life of humanity; How long will our civilization last
He intends to launch a human mission to Mars in the next 10 years, while NASA is looking toward the 2030s or 40s for its own manned mission. The red planet, about 140 million miles from Earth, is a prominent target for the future of space travel, lets hope this is a wise decision since “The Mars mission will result in an inevitable exposure to cosmic radiation that has been shown to cause cognitive impairments in rodent models, and possibly in astronauts engaged in deep space travel”.
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, after Mercury. Named after the Roman god of war, it is often referred to as the “Red Planet” because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth.