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Mars mission blues


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In 2013 a Dutch company offered people the opportunity to sign up for the chance to become one of a select group chosen for a one-way trip to Mars. At the time around 100,000 people put themselves forward for what was intended to be a first journey to the Red Planet. Mind you, if they had seen the results of a recent study they might not have been so quick to put up their hands.

These days we estimate that a round trip to Mars, if we had the technology, might take around 2-3 years. One of the things we know about space Travel is that it would expose you to galactic cosmic radiation that has the potential to damage the central nervous system. To see what the effects of this might be NASA researchers exposed rodents to charged particle irradiation using fully ionised oxygen and titanium to simulate what would be experienced in space.

Even six months after exposure the researchers found there was still significant levels of brain inflammation and damage to neurons. This damage included reduced dendrites on neurons leading to disrupted transmission of signals among brain cells. These changes resulted in poor performance on tests of learning and memory. Additionally, there was a reduction in “fear extinction”, which is the active process by which your brain suppresses previous unpleasant associations. This is what allows you to get back on a horse after falling off. A lack of fear extinction leads to an increase in anxiety.

In case you are wondering, space station astronauts are not subject to this cosmic radiation because they are protected by the Earth’s magnetosphere. The space station orbits at around 400 km above Earth while the journey to Mars is around 54.6 million kilometres.

The net effect of cosmic radiation exposure then on your journey to Mars would be reduced memory and learning as well as increased anxiety. It would be a form of Mars Mission dementia. It might be that portions of your ship could be developed to shield you from radiation while you sleep but at the moment, chances are by the time you got back from your Mars Mission, you would forget you’d been on it.

Source: Scientific Reports



 

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.