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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.
Even radiation shielding on the craft used to take astronauts to Mars isn’t the ultimate prevention tactic. Currently, there is no technology that can stop these particles from penetrating spacecraft and affecting the astronauts, Limoli said.