New findings indicate that long space missions and frequent journeys into space can have negative impacts on the brains of astronauts. According to a recent study, extensive time spent in space can cause significant alterations in the human brain.
Understanding these changes and their potential consequences is crucial for the success of upcoming missions, including long expeditions to Mars that are being planned.
Enlargement of brain cavities
The most notable changes observed so far in the brains of astronauts are related to the enlargement of ventricles, which are cavities in the brain. These ventricles contain cerebrospinal fluid, which plays a vital role in safeguarding, nourishing, and eliminating waste from the brain.
Due to the absence of gravitational force in space, the brain tends to move upward within the skull, expanding the ventricles by up to 25%. The long-term implications of ventricle expansion caused by space travel remain uncertain.
Rachael Seidler, a space health researcher at the University of Florida in Gainesville and the senior author of the study, stated that the impact on performance and long-term health is still an unanswered question.
Factors affecting expansion of ventricles
One aspect that remains puzzling is whether the expansion of ventricles differs based on factors such as the duration of the mission, the number of previous missions undertaken, or the time interval between missions.
To shed light on this, Seidler and her colleagues conducted MRI scans on 30 astronauts both before and after their spaceflights. The study participants included eight astronauts who embarked on two-week missions, 18 on six-month missions, and four who undertook longer missions lasting up to one year.
With the increasing popularity of space tourism, the recent findings bring some reassuring news. It appears that shorter trips to space have minimal impact on the brain, indicating little physical alteration.
Furthermore, the study revealed that the rate of ventricle enlargement slows down after six months in space. This is promising because it suggests that these changes do not continue to escalate over time, as explained by Seidler.
Implications of findings
The implications of these findings hold particular significance for future long-duration missions, such as those planned for Mars.
The research also unveiled another interesting aspect. When examining the time interval between spaceflights, it was observed that a gap of fewer than three years might not allow sufficient recovery for the ventricles to return to their pre-spaceflight state.
This insight emphasizes the importance of allowing an adequate duration between missions for the brain to recuperate fully. According to Seidler, they aim to conduct thorough examinations on crew members up to five years after their spaceflights.
This extensive investigation will play a crucial role in gaining a deeper understanding of the potential consequences suggested by the current findings. However, it’s important to note that this comprehensive study is anticipated to span a decade to gather comprehensive and reliable data.