Bad news, interplanetary travelers: Turns out going to space could really damage your brain.
A new study published Monday in Scientific Reports claims extended time in space can cause major brain damage — AKA “space brain.” This occurs after too much exposure to galactic cosmic ray radiation (which, despite sounding like something Buzz Lightyear would say, is actually a real thing).
Long-term exposure to the radiation caused lasting dementia in rodents, according to researchers at the University of California, Irvine. Charles Limoli, who led the study, said the more time that a person spends in space, the more radiation that reaches them — a major problem, as NASA turns its eye toward 300+ day journeys to Mars.
It’s difficult for scientists to gauge just how the radiation will affect human brains, Limoli told Mic. That’s because no human has actually reached the surface of Mars yet. The Earth’s magnetosphere, which limits the radiation’s damaging effects, still protects astronauts in the International Space Station, Limoli said.
Lasting cognitive impairments could have scary effects on future space travelers, Limoli said. One of which is the loss of “fear extinction,” or, in other words, the brain’s ability to process scary stuff.
Limoli told Mic:
This means a colony on Mars is still a far-off dream for the human race. Until we have a means of protecting human brains from dangerous radiation, we’ll have to leave the planetary exploration to the robots.