Mars-Bound Astronauts Face Chronic Dementia

Galactic cosmic rays may cause long-term brain damage.

Astronauts travelling to Mars could develop chronic dementia following exposure to galactic cosmic rays, new research suggests.

According to a new study by US researchers, rodents subjected to charged particles similar to those in space go on to suffer long-term brain damage.

Half a year following exposure, the rodents’ brain still showed signs of significant levels of inflammation and damage to neurons.

Günay Mutlu via Getty Images

The results of the six month trial mirror the six week post-irradiation findings of a 2015 study conducted by the same research team.

University of California, Irvine’s Charles Limoli said: “This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two-to-three-year round trip to Mars.

“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.”

Limoli added that the symptoms take months to manifest, meaning the astronauts could start suffering during the mission.

The radiation has also been linked to “fear extinction”, a process in which the brain suppresses prior unpleasant association.

“Deficits in fear extinction could make you prone to anxiety,” Limoli said, “which could become problematic over the course of a three-year trip to and from Mars.”

Limoli’s research contributes to NASA’s Human Research Program, which investigates how the effects of space radiation can be mitigated.

He said said that shielding can be designed to protect rest and sleeping quarters, but added that the particles will disperse throughout the ship anyway.\

Limoli is now working on pharmacological solutions to reduce the impact of the radiation.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

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