- Parabolic Arc
- June 7, 2023
Long-term Space Travel Could Cause Brain Damage
A study led by researchers at the University of Gothenburg indicates that long-duration spaceflight could result in brain damage. The study, published in the JAMA Neurology scientific journal, involved the study of five Russian cosmonauts who lived on the International Space Station (ISS).
Blood samples were taken from the cosmonauts 20 days before their departure to the ISS. On average, they then stayed in space for 169 days (approximately five and a half months). The participants’ mean age was 49.
After their return to Earth, follow-up blood samples were taken on three occasions: one day, one week, and about three weeks respectively after landing. Five biomarkers for brain damage were analyzed. They were neurofilament light (NFL), glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), total tau (T-tau), and two amyloid beta proteins.
For three of the biomarkers — NFL, GFAP and the amyloid beta protein Aβ40 — the concentrations were significantly elevated after the space sojourn. The peak readings did not occur simultaneously after the men’s return to Earth, but their biomarker trends nonetheless broadly tallied over time.
“This is the first time that concrete proof of brain-cell damage has been documented in blood tests following space flights. This must be explored further and prevented if space travel is to become more common in the future,” says Henrik Zetterberg, professor of neuroscience and one of the study’s two senior coauthors.
Zetterberg and his colleagues are discussing follow-up studies.
8 responses to “Long-term Space Travel Could Cause Brain Damage”
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I assume it is from the Micro-G environment. Another argument for building 1G facilities.
All life upon the surface of the Earth, Thomas, has adapted to the 1G environment. When we humans are in constant freefall, the body’s mechanism of compensating for the tendency of blood to pool in the lower body continues to operate even though it doesn’t need to. Hence, blood pressure in the upper body, especially the head, spikes. That, is not doing us good, and, long term, is causing harm to more than just our vision. Stay safe, Paul.
Which is why it is important to plan to build 1G habitats on the Moon, Mars and other places humans might want to live. The key question will be the effect of the Coriolis forces on humans to determine limits which could be studied on Earth if folks were interested.
I’m curious as to how a 1G habitat on the surface of the Moon or Mars will work. The only way I can think of is a spinning habitat, which seems impractical for many reasons. Is there some other way envisioned?
Yes, one I presented at the ISDC in 2019 which no longer seems to be online. Basically you just take a civil engineering approach and build it below the surface, a 25 meter diameter tunnel with a radius of 350 meters. Inside the tunnel are a ring of spherical modules that travel, like subway cars, fast enough to generate the additional .84 needed to provide the 1G needed on the Moon.
It could be built with existing technology using the Starship, with around 250 flights, much simpler than any of the proposed 1G orbital habitats since the lunar subsurface provides both the shielding and structural strength. Best of all, all of the engineering and tests could be done on Earth before disassembly and shipment to the Moon. The 3-4 meters of shielding would give it a high level of protection against radiation. A single ring will provide around 300-400 residences. Additional rings, with larger radius, would be added as the population expands.
Variations of the design will work on Mars, the Martian moons and large asteroids. I call it S-MAGS for Surface – Modular Artificial Gravity System. An orbital version with the same 3 meters of shielding is referred to as a O-MAGS, Orbital – Modular Artificial Gravity System. But you first need a lunar industrial capability to build the orbital one economically due to the mass of the shielding required.
If a full one gee is required for human health, then we can forget colonizing any planetary body in the Solar System, with the possible exception of insanely difficult floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus.
With any luck, mere low gravity is enough to counter the negative health consequences of a freefall environment. We just don’t have that data yet.
SLS delenda est
And I think that is a criminal lack considering the Dirksens spent on studying human zero gee results.
Could be zero-G, could be radiation, could be both? What does the research paper say?
SLS delenda est