If you believe the folks at Mars One, the first human settlement on Mars will begin in 2024. If we are indeed moving into the age of long-term deep space missions, though, there are all sorts of new health concerns we’ll have to worry about. Case in point: recent research from Johns Hopkins, which shows that astronauts may be at risk for permanent cognitive impairment.
The Hopkins study exposed rats to high-energy particles that simulated conditions astronauts would face on a long-term deep space mission. And even after extremely low doses of radiation, the rats showed lapses in attention and slower reaction times, which the researchers attribute to protein changes in the brain. Some rats showed recovery after time, but others appeared to be permanently damaged.
On the upside, some of the rats seemed more susceptible to the radiation’s effects than others. It may be possible to develop a biological marker to predict which people are more (or less) sensitive to radiation’s effects.
“In our radiated rats, we found that 40 to 45 percent had these attention-related deficits, while the rest were seemingly unaffected,” study leader Robert D. Hienz says. “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.”
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