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Space radiation will take a toll on astronauts' brains during the long journey to Mars, a new study suggests.
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, the study reports.
Trip - Mars - Months - Way - Propulsion
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.
"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," said study co-author Charles Limoli, a professor of radiation oncology at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine.
Low-dose-rate - Scenarios - Risk - Performance - Deficits
"These chronic low-dose-rate, low-dose-exposure scenarios are going to increase the risk of developing, perhaps, mission-critical performance deficits," Limoli told Space.com. "What exactly those are, we'll never know until we get out there."
Researchers investigating the effects of deep-space radiation have historically given lab animals acute doses — high levels over a relatively short period of time. But Limoli and his colleagues — led by Munjal Acharya and Janet Baulch of UCI's Department of Radiation Oncology and Peter Klein of Stanford University's Department of Neurosurgery — took a different tack.
Study - Dose - Rates - Limoli - Study
"This is the first study that's looked at space-relevant dose rates," Limoli said. "And this is the first study to analyze the consequences of the low dose rate over the course of time on functional endpoints in the brain."
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...
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