Mars Mission Might Leave Astronauts Severely Brain-Damaged, New Research Finds

By J Russ I. , Oct 11, 2016 03:00 AM EDT

There are people actively working on projects that will turn humanity into a space-faring race. Elon Musk and a group from Netherlands called Mars One are among those that are toying with the possibility. However, a venture as ambitious as colonizing the Red Planet comes with a host of obstacles. And a recent discovery has just been added to the pile.

Complications From Harmful Cosmic Rays To Astronauts

Professor Charles Limoli, a professor of the University of California, Irvine, and expert in the field of radiation oncology, found that exposure to highly energetic charged particles had serious long-term effects on rodents. These hazardous particles are similar to cosmic rays that will swarm astronauts should they travel to Mars. These particcles result in dementia and cognitive impairment.

So why doesn't this affect astronauts living in the International Space Station? The professor explained that those men and women have not been subjected to the level of radiation that Mars travelers will face as the ISS is still orbiting inside the protection of the Earth's magnetosphere.

Limoli added that other significant damage in the nervous system will occur including memory deficits, anxiety, depression, impaired decision-making, and decreased physical performance on various levels. These negative effects will not only persist during space travel but will continue long after the journey has been completed, according to Science Daily.

Fear Extinction

Another serious threat that looms over would-be Martian explorers is that space radiation interferes with "fear extinction." To put simply, this is an individual's ability to overcome fear after being exposed to a life-threatening situation. An example would be a person learning to enjoy swimming again after nearly drowning.

"Deficits in fear extinction could make you prone to anxiety, which could become problematic over the course of a three-year trip to and from Mars," Limoli said. The professor noted that dementia-like symptoms will not manifest itself outright, but will take months before it takes hold.

The recent study is echoing Limoli's six-week findings last year, which also involved post-irradiation. The research has been included in the May issue of Science Advances.

Possible Solutions To The Harmful Particles That Threatens Astronauts

As with all obstacles facing researchers, Limoli's team is working on solutions that will mitigate the negative effects of cosmic rays to astronauts. One proposition is designing a spacecraft with increased shielding to repel the charged particles, reported the Independent.

However, Limoli said that even with added protection these particles will pass through the shielding nonetheless. "There is really no escaping them," the professor admitted.

Another solution focuses on preventive treatments. Limoli and his colleagues are hard at work in developing pharmacological strategies involving compounds that will collect free radicals and offer protection to neurotransmission.

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