While NASA plans to send humans to Mars in just 16 years, a new study has warned about the effects of such journeys on the mental health of astronauts.
Researchers from the University of California have revealed that astronauts going to the red planet are likely to suffer memory loss and anxiety.In their study, published in eNeuro , the researchers explained: “As NASA prepares for a mission to Mars, concerns regarding the health risks associated with deep space radiation exposure have emerged.”
The researchers looked at the effects of chronic, low dose radiation - the conditions present in deep space - on mice.
The mice were exposed to this radiation for six months, after which the researchers looked at their brains, as well as their behaviour.
The results revealed that the radiation exposure affected cellular signalling in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, resulting in learning and memory issues.
he mice were also more anxious at the end of the six months, indicating that the radiation may also impact the amygdala.
While the study was done on mice, it has worrying implications for humans travelling to the moon in the near future.The researchers added: “Behavioural analyses showed an alarming increase in risk associated with these realistic simulations, revealing for the first time, some unexpected potential problems associated with deep space travel on all levels of neurological function.”
However, NASA plans to study the effects of time in deep space on the human body further before sending astronauts to Mars.
The space agency is launching a Lunar Gateway in 2022, where crews will spend time orbiting the moon.
NASA explained: “Living on the Gateway for months at a time will also allow researchers to understand how the human body responds in a true deep space environment before committing to the years-long journey to Mars.”