What happens to our brains, and our mental health, in space? As NASA explores a potential mission to Mars, the question has become urgentby Nayef Al-Rodhan / February 27, 2018 / Leave a comment
America wants to go to Mars. In October 2016, the US reconfirmed its ambition to send people to the Red Planet by the 2030s. In the spring of 2017, the new US administration expressed similar ambitions.
Yet to successfully plan and conduct a mission to Mars, NASA needs to know how space affects human physiology in long-duration space travel.
Scott Kelly—the American astronaut to spend the longest amount of time in space—is helping NASA understand the physiological effects of a zero-gravity confined environment and radiation on the human body and mind.
NASA, which is hiring astronauts for its planned manned Mars mission and the International Space Station (ISS), will select candidates based largely on the findings of several on-going studies investigating radiation tolerance and psychological health.
Everything we know in the medical field about the human body and the human brain has been studied in an environment with gravity. Now, we are increasingly presented with the opportunity to study how the human body adapts or reacts to life in outer space.
For over a decade, NASA’s Human Research Program has been discovering answers about what happens to the human body in space.
What we know so far is that space takes a toll on the human body both physically and mentally, and the risks associated with space travel vary in different environments—for example, between a space station and a spaceship travelling to Mars.
Physical issues include swollen faces (due to the fact that body liquids spread out more evenly), thinner bone density, mineral loss, a lack of sleep and sunlight, increased iron levels and distorted coordination. NASA’s Vision Impairment and Intracranial Pressure project revealed that many astronauts experience deteriorated vision after missions caused by the affect of weightlessness on the brain and spinal fluid, with effects that can last for years.
According to NASA, astronauts who had spent long periods of time in space reported structural changes to the eye and abnormally high cerebrospinal fluids in the brain. Space flight has been demonstrated to squeeze on the fragile tips of the optic nerves.
There is also evidence that galactic cosmic radiation exposure increases an astronaut’s risk of heart disease, cancer, central nervous system disorder and acute radiation syndrome, and that the risk may be worse than previously thought.
A paper in Scientific Reports showed that astronauts travelling to the moon were…