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'Space Brain': Mars Explorers May Risk Neural Damage, Study Finds (nbcnews.com) 186

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: Astronauts making a years-long voyage to Mars may get bombarded with enough cosmic radiation to seriously damage their brains, researchers reported Monday. The damage might be bad enough to affect memory and, worse, might heighten anxiety, the team at the University of California Irvine said. It's the second study the team has done to show that cosmic radiation causes permanent, and likely untreatable, brain damage. While their experiments involve mice, the brain structures that are damaged are similar, they write in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. NASA knows that astronauts risk physical damage from the radiation encountered in space. Earth is enveloped in a large, protective sheath called the magnetosphere, which deflects a lot of the ionizing radioactive particles that speed through space. Teams aboard the International Space Station are inside that envelope. But moon travelers were not, and this summer a study showed the cosmic radiation may have damaged the hearts of many of the Apollo program astronauts. A trip to Mars would expose astronauts to even more radiation -- enough to cause cancer, for sure, and now this research suggests brain damage, as well. They bombarded mice with the same type of radiation that would be encountered in space, and then looked at what happened to their brains. It did not look good. The changes were seen in the connections between brain cells and in the cells, as well. "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. Many of these adverse consequences to cognition may continue and progress throughout life."
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'Space Brain': Mars Explorers May Risk Neural Damage, Study Finds

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    • That was one of my favorite shows. I could watch it over and over and still laugh my ass off.

      But a worse threat to long-term space travelers is that they might Start . . . Talking . . . Like . . . William . . . Shatner.
      Perfect evidence of brain damage there!
  • by goose-incarnated ( 1145029 ) on Tuesday October 11, 2016 @03:22AM (#53053299) Journal
    If they think it's viable then then already have neural damage. A little more won't make much of a difference.
    • Let's try a novel approach to the problem.

      1. If you don't want to go to Mars, don't.

      2. If someone else does, it's their problem. They're not asking you to be their Mommy and tell them what's good (or bad) for them, anymore than you're asking them to be your Mommy....

      Done. Problem solved.

      And as an extra bonus (for one group or the other), someone will get to tell someone else "See!? I Told You So!"

      So a win-win situation, in general. Yeah, you lose the "I told Wilbur and I told Orville that that th

      • Let's try a novel approach to the problem.

        1. If you don't want to go to Mars, don't.

        2. If someone else does, it's their problem. They're not asking you to be their Mommy and tell them what's good (or bad) for them, anymore than you're asking them to be your Mommy....

        Wait, what? You want to silence those who mock others? Did you even read your sig?

        "I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

        Are you using that quote sarcastically? Making fun of stupid people (flat-earthers, creationists, people who want to go to Mars, etc) is a time-honoured tradition.

        Done. Problem solved.

        And as an extra bonus (for one group or the other), someone will get to tell someone else "See!? I Told You So!"

        So a win-win situation, in general. Yeah, you lose the "I told Wilbur and I told Orville that that thing would never fly" parts which sooooo many people enjoy.

        You appear to be missing the fact that throughout human history, the majority of the people who said "that will never fly" were correct. They may have laughed at the Wright brothers, but they also laughed at Bozo the clown. Just because someone says that your idea is

      • by e r ( 2847683 )

        1. If you don't want to go to Mars, don't.

        I won't.

        2. If someone else does, it's their problem. They're not asking you to be their Mommy and tell them what's good (or bad) for them, anymore than you're asking them to be your Mommy....

        Then they can pay for it themselves and stop forcing me to pay taxes for it. So SpaceX gets my approval assuming they don't use government grants and contracts to pay for their endeavor. NASA gets my disapproval.

  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Tuesday October 11, 2016 @03:27AM (#53053315)
    Once travelers get to mars the problem is not over, as Mars magnetic field is rather weak, because its dynamo was killed a long time ago [wired.com]
    • Live underground, perhaps?
      • Live underground, perhaps?The

        Also, the atmosphere provides SOME help.

        It's a serious issue for settlers, though, if they ever want to do stuff on the surface. While the trip to Mars might take years, for settlers, life on Mars would take the rest of their lives (as well as the entire lives of of the bulk of their descendants.)

  • by iris-n ( 1276146 ) on Tuesday October 11, 2016 @03:40AM (#53053355)

    They didn't expose the rats to anything similar to the radiation an astronaut would be subjected to in their travel to Mars: they fried the rats with a short, intense radiation dose, while the astronauts would be exposed to a low dose long term. In fact, in the study they don't even claim that this radiation is anything similar to what one would find in space, they just say it is "space relevant". So what they found out is only that if you fry rats with radiation it impairs their cognition, and this impairment is long-lasting.

    Also, TFS says that Scientific Reports is a Nature journal. This is true, Nature the company (or more precisely Holtzbrinck Publishing Group) does own this journal, but it has nothing to do with the Nature journal, editorially or scientifically. This is just a lame attempt to bestow Nature's reputation on Scientific Reports, which is in fact a pretty crappy journal, that does not even try to select papers based on quality, but claims to check only for correctness.

    • So you don't like the message? Shoot the messinger!

      This experiment was motivated by observations about moon mission astronauts. It's not like someone with an anti-manned space agenda pulled it out of their ass as an excuse.

      The astronaut data is not definitive. The experiment is not definitive. No one is going to send more people outside the van Allen belts to see if their brains and hearts rot. But they are going to do more definitive tests to find out what is going on. Lots of tests, some of which will t

      • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

        You clearly haven't read either my comment or TFA itself. If you have a substantive criticism of my position I'll be happy to respond.

      • But why do they perform such an irrelevant experiment and then claim that it is "space relevant"? (Knowing full well how the media are going to interpret it). Oh wait, I guess I just answered my own question.

        Would it be so hard to subject the rats to a longer duration, lower intensity dose that actually resembles the conditions on a space mission? Oooh, but then they might find less spectacular results and wouldn't get any media attention... I guess I just answered my own question again.

        Next up: headline in

    • They discovered a long time ago that there is no difference between short bursts and long term exposure...
      • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

        This is simply not true. Short bursts are much more damaging. And since you're the one claiming there is no difference, the onus of proof is on you.

    • by waveclaw ( 43274 )

      The study is actually important. They showed that the brains didn't recover from the damage as expected. The radiation treatment did not trigger the plastic repair behavior expected from an injured brain.

      Yes, the particles used don't resemble background Solar radiation. It doesn't even resemble the stream of lightweight charged particles from a Coronal Mass ejection. However, the model is similar to the burst of Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR). Like the kind you get on an unplanned spacewalk to fix

      • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

        I think you are confusing the very rare very energetic cosmic rays with the constant background of low energy cosmic rays you have in space. Nobody cares about the first kind, because they are so rare, the second is what worries people planning manned missions. Both are very tough to shield against, anyway.

        And their radiation source is not similar to either kind. They just used some very radioactive isotopes to expose the rats to a nice bath of gamma rays and alpha particles for a few seconds. This is much

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      The info I've paid attention to on long-term symptoms experienced by astronauts has all pointed at one thing: low-level thyroid damage, probably due to cosmic bombardment making some of the body's iodine radioactive (which in turn kills bits of the thyroid gland). Probably worth testing a protective "collar", as well as shielding stuff like iodized salt and seafood.

  • I am pretty sure the best solution is to mimic what already works. The space ship needs to be one giant magnet , which I think could be done without losing the space ship part.

    • by NotAPK ( 4529127 )

      I'm sorry, but you're the 4th or 5th poster to claim that a magnetic field will shield high energy cosmic rays and this assertion is wrong. You need *mass* to shield them, and on Earth that mass is provided by the atmosphere. Adding mass to spaceships compounds the fundamental problem we have with getting anywhere in the solar system, namely the "rocket equation".

      There are some alternatives [wikipedia.org] but they are all highly speculative.

  • How do you think the Fantastic Four got their powers?

    • They got drunk and decided to test out their interdimensional transportation device and then the green ooze from the other dimension planet caused them. And the producers said "holy shit this movie sucks!" and rushed out an ending in 2 days and released it.

  • Ren: You're not like the others, you like the same things I do. Wax Papers. Boiled football leather. DOG BREATH! We're not hitchhiking anymore. We're riding
    Stimpy: Stop it. You're talking crazy.
  • by transami ( 202700 ) on Tuesday October 11, 2016 @07:38AM (#53054049) Homepage

    http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/real-martians-how-to-protect-astronauts-from-space-radiation-on-mars

  • >> This summer a study showed the cosmic radiation may have damaged the hearts of many of the Apollo program astronauts. You lose some credibility saying this, IMHO. The Apollo program was wrapping up when I was born, and half of them can still fog a mirror.
    • a person can't be living with a damaged heart? tens of thousands of morbidly obese slashdotters prove you wrong

  • They could wear tinfoil hats.

  • The effects of radiation in humans have been studied pretty extensively. People tend to have many severe health effects of other kinds long before cognition is impacted. We should be worrying about the astronauts dying long before we worry about them having reduced cognition.

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