Science Snippet: Trip to Mars Could Impair Brain Function


Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Automotive and SpaceX technologies, is hoping to sell tickets for a trip to Mars for $200,000, and even Boeing and NASA are pondering a trip to the red planet. Before you volunteer to be a guinea pig on the first flights, you must be willing to accept the likelihood that during the flight to Mars and back you will lose some brain function because of radiation damage to brain neurons. In other words, you may return to earth dumber than when you left. On earth we are protected from much of this radiation by the planet’s magnetic field. Mice exposed for long periods of time to space-equivalent doses of radiation show that at the end of the experiment they had reduced cognitive function. In other words, key decision-making neurons were lost. Also these mice showed greater anxiety and were unable to control fear. The spaceship to Mars could have heavy metal shielding to stop the radiation, but it would be so heavy it could never reach escape velocity. Water stops radiation better than metal so space researchers suggest that a spaceship could carry its water supply in a hull cavity surrounding the crew’s quarters. As the water is consumed it could be replaced by human waste. (Brain in the News, Nov. 2016, Dana Foundation publication; Parihar, et al, 2015, in Science Advances, May, vol. 1, #4)


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