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A new study revealed cognitive impairment in mice when subjected to highly ionized radiation

This radiation is similar to what astronauts will face on deep space missions, like one to Mars

CNN —  

Astronauts on a mission to Mars will be expected to rely on their memory, multitasking and decision-making skills to handle the first manned expedition beyond the moon. But the harmful radiation from galactic cosmic rays throughout their journey could cause them to experience cognitive impairment in these key areas, as well as increased depression and anxiety, according to a new study.

The effects of exposure to highly charged and ionized particles during extended deep-space travel could be long-lasting and without resolve, similar to dementia.

“These charged particles are very dangerous,” said Charles Limoli, study co-author and professor of radiation oncology at the University of California, Irvine. “The reason is, they are very energetic and fully ionized, and when they travel through the body, they produce this type of damage that the cells and tissues of your body find very difficult to recover from. Now, it really looks like the complications associated with these exposures to the brain are becoming one of the more difficult to deal with.”

The particles are believed to originate from the remnants of ancient supernovae. Though NASA has known for a long time that the space environment is a radioactive one, astronauts have largely been within Earth’s protective magnetosphere aboard the International Space Station. The only astronauts to directly encounter galactic cosmic rays were those embarking on short-duration trips to the moon. But just trying to reach Mars will take six to nine months.