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Cosmic rays could damage astronauts' brains


Posted on Saturday, 2 May, 2015 | Comment icon 25 comments

Astronauts in orbit are protected by the Earth's magnetic field. Image Credit: NASA
Cosmic radiation could be the single biggest problem for future astronauts embarking on a trip to Mars.
As if building a spacecraft capable of safely ferrying its crew to Mars wasn't enough of a challenge, long-term exposure to harmful cosmic radiation could be so damaging to the human brain that the astronauts may no longer be able to function properly by the time they arrive at their destination.

New research has suggested that long-term exposure to cosmic radiation could produce dimentia-like symptoms that would make performing essential tasks extremely difficult.

"Astronauts may incur cognitive impairments that lead to performance decrements, confusion, increased anxiety and longer-term problems with cognitive health," said Professor Charles Limoli​.

These impairments would be particularly problematic on a complex space mission as the astronauts would need to carry out a whole roster of mission-critical tasks on a regular basis.

One potential solution to help mitigate the effects of the cosmic radiation would be to have special shielded areas inside the spacecraft where the astronauts could go for certain amounts of time to limit their exposure. Reducing the time taken to reach Mars would also help to reduce symptoms.

NASA is currently planning to send humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s.

"This is not a deal breaker but it represents an issue NASA needs to prepare for," said Prof Limoli.

Source: The Guardian | Comments (25)

Tags: Mars, Astronauts, Radiation

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #16 Posted by Frank Merton on 3 May, 2015, 10:32
An engineering problem for which we will find a solution. I appreciate your optimism, but this one, along with the similar radiation problems of a space elevator, seem to rule out human beings in space in any major way for quite a long time, if not forever. The shielding needed is just simply not affordable or practical even if you get it up there. (We are going to eventually have to have a space elevator too -- rockets also are impractical).
Comment icon #17 Posted by ChrLzs on 3 May, 2015, 11:49
So how did we get to the moon without knowing this and no effects. ???? The article states quite clearly: .. long term exposure .... not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two- to three-year round trip to Mars .. this is not a deal breaker .. The article even refers to some cosmic ray effects noted by the Apollo astronauts. Longest Apollo mission (there and back) was ~12 days, and this was back in the days where them astronauts were expendable.... Mars mission? Will take 7-12 months just to get there... Can you spot the difference?
Comment icon #18 Posted by Hammerclaw on 3 May, 2015, 12:32
I appreciate your optimism, but this one, along with the similar radiation problems of a space elevator, seem to rule out human beings in space in any major way for quite a long time, if not forever. The shielding needed is just simply not affordable or practical even if you get it up there. (We are going to eventually have to have a space elevator too -- rockets also are impractical). This is hardly a new problem and conceptual solutions have been on the drawing boards for quite some time. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/308/1
Comment icon #19 Posted by jarjarbinks on 3 May, 2015, 14:19
It would probably end up like the movie Event Horizon
Comment icon #20 Posted by pallidin on 3 May, 2015, 15:45
CNN MY FALSE NEWS STORY: The trio of apparently crazed gunmen who shot their way through a lollipop stand have been identified as Clark Wilson, 38... Travon Tenet, 39... and Misty McQuire, 42. All are listed as astronauts. No one was injured in this bizarre incident. The last residence known for the trio was Cape Canaveral, Florida, and had recently returned from a NASA space mission to Sector 7, a test midway-point between Earth and Mars. To further complicate the ongoing investigation, Dennis Weadly, public affairs officer for NASA and former astronaut himself, is reported by KXYZ News to ha... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by BeastieRunner on 4 May, 2015, 17:15
Or turn them into the Fantastic Four. Haha, I had the same thought. "Bummer, there goes getting super powers."
Comment icon #22 Posted by Thorvir Hrothgaard on 4 May, 2015, 17:57
Cosmic rays could damage astronauts' brains ...or give them super-powers!
Comment icon #23 Posted by Infernal Gnu on 5 May, 2015, 1:50
Not to worry, folks! That great inventor Ron Popiel has just come to the rescue with his revolutionary Showtime, I mean Spacetime Cosmic Ray Oven for use by our astronauts! It utilizes patented Ronco Cosmic Ray Collectors installed on the hull of the ship which serve as an energy source for the oven, diverting all those dangerous rays away from the astronauts! There is absolutely NO drain on the onboard power system at all. The astronauts can just "Set it and forget it!" and enjoy delicious meals on any deep space journey.
Comment icon #24 Posted by Thorvir Hrothgaard on 5 May, 2015, 1:52
Welcome to the site. Fair attempt at humor for your first post, I'll remember you and hope you keep it up.
Comment icon #25 Posted by Erowin on 19 May, 2015, 16:15
I appreciate your optimism, but this one, along with the similar radiation problems of a space elevator, seem to rule out human beings in space in any major way for quite a long time, if not forever. The shielding needed is just simply not affordable or practical even if you get it up there. (We are going to eventually have to have a space elevator too -- rockets also are impractical). I dunno, at the rate technology is advancing we could have something within 20-50 years we wouldn't have dreamed of now. Even if it takes longer, I'm sure we'll find a way to shield against radiation. Probably b... [More]


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