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Rats were exposed to radiation levels similar to that found in deep space. Serious lapses in attention occurred in 64% of the sensitive animals. Increase in impulsiveness took place in 45% and slower reaction in 27%. Difference based on a rat's specific resilience after exposure to radiation.

If same proves true in humans, scientists could identify those more susceptible to radiation before the brain becomes permanently damaged.

 

Going to space can mess with your head.

Not only do you suffer the psychological effects of isolation, but new research suggests radiation exposure can significantly damage the brain. Scientists believe this could prove fatal on future missions to deep space, with astronauts suffering from slower reaction times and major lapses in attention.

Researchers came to the conclusion after exposing rats to high-energy particles that simulate the conditions astronauts could experience in deep space.

After exposure, a team at John Hopkins University in Maryland made the rats perform a fitness test similar to the ones astronauts, pilots, and soldiers have to take prior to a mission.

In one such test, an astronaut sees a blank screen on a handheld device and is instructed to tap the screen when an LED counter lights up. The normal reaction time should be less than 300 milliseconds. The rats in the experiment were similarly taught to touch a light-up key with their noses and are then tested to see how quickly they react. ‘In our radiated rats, we found that 40 to 45 percent had these attention-related deficits, while the rest were seemingly unaffected,’ said study leader Dr Robert Hienz.

‘If the same proves true in humans and we can identify those more susceptible to radiation’s effects before they are harmfully exposed, we may be able to mitigate the damage.’

Before the test, the rats’ heads were exposed to varying levels of radiation. Once the rats returned to Johns Hopkins, they were tested on their reaction times every day for 250 days. 

The radiation-sensitive animals all showed evidence of brain damage that began at 50 to 60 days after exposure.

Lapses in attention occurred in 64 per cent of the sensitive animals, an increase in impulsive behaviour took place in 45 per cent and slower reaction times occurred in 27 per cent.

But researchers found that the impairments were not dependent on radiation dose. The difference comes down to an individual's resilience after exposure to radiation. Catherine Davis, a postdoctoral fellow at the University said she wouldn’t want to see radiation-sensitive astronauts kept from future missions to the Moon or Mars.

However, she would want those astronauts to be prepared to take special precautions to protect their brains, such as wearing extra shielding or not performing space walks.

Currently, astronauts are not as exposed to the damaging effects of radiation because the International Space Station flies in an orbit low enough that the Earth’s magnetic field continues to provide protection.

But several years ago brain scans of Nasa astronauts who spent more than a month in space revealed damage to their eyeballs and brain tissue

The researchers used MRI scans to examine the eyes and brains of 27 astronauts, and found examples of brain damage caused by exposure to the micro-gravity of space.

This ranged from a flattening and bulging of the eyeball to damage to the connections between the brain and the pituitary gland - one of the key glands governing bodily functions.

With humans adapted over millions of years for living within the pressure of Earth's atmosphere and gravity, it is unsurprising that space plays havoc with our systems. In fact, with astronaut bodies trapped between conflicting gravity fields, lower gravity, and centrifugal forces, probably the most surprising fact is that our bodies can endure space at all.

Radiation issues for manned Mars mission

sidebar radiation article

During the rover's cruise to Mars between December 2011 and July 2012, RAD showed that an astronaut would clock up the same radiation dose in a day that the average American receives in a year. If you exclude medical dosages, it would be 10 times more than the average American.

See original article from The Guardian here.

Materials that Halt Hazardous Space Radiation

Radiation has long been an issue when it comes to space travel. In fact, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity recently confirmed previous research on the hazards of space radiation, revealing that radiation levels on the way to the Red Planet are several hundred times higher than the those humans receive on Earth. Now, scientists may have found a way to shield astronauts from the hazards of this radiation.

See original article from Science World Report here.

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