Cosmic Rays Retard Cognitive Functions

With the international goal of getting a human to Mars by 2030 in many astrophysicists minds, making sure they are healthy enough to get back is also a concern. A journey to Mars will expose an astronaut to an extreme amount of cosmic radiation. I have already talked about a study showing that mice had their hormone produces damaged resulting in drastic overeating and a gain in weight. The same high energy particle radiation, specifically oxygen-16 and titanium-48, was used to irradiate rats at a rate of about 0.1 Gray per minute. This means that a one kilogram rat would receive 0.1 Joules of energy in a minute. The results of this test were not as primitive and observational as the rats eating more. Instead tests were performed twelve weeks after the radiation dose to see if the rats were showing any cognitive impairment. To do this they made the rats perform task such as a Novel Object Recognition test. If a  rat is put in a room with two glowing cubes, one red and one yellow, it will investigate them. If it is then removed and the yellow cube is switched for a blue one, the rat should investigate the new object having already sniffed the red cube. Failure to remember that the red cube was already present and an equal time spent at each is a sign of minor cognitive damage. It was found in this test and others such as temporal and location based tasks that the rats exposed to radiation had a higher failure rate and much bigger variance in their results. This was shown even 24 weeks after the radiation dose was stopped. Such long term effects could risk a space mission if humans are affected in a similar way. Astronauts need to be operating at their peak for a long period and these results show that more shielding and protection could easily be required for both the space suits and shuttle to protect the health and well being of our future Martians.


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