“Space brain” is real –– and here’s what it means for folks who dream of living on Mars

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.

LIFTOFF! NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched at 9:36 p.m. EDT to the International Space Station. They are now successfully in orbit. All three will spend approximately four months on the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October. The trio will travel in an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft, testing modified systems for two days – and 34 Earth orbits – before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module at 12:12 a.m. Saturday, July 9. NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 8. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls) #nasa #space #spacestation #soyuz #launch #iss #astrokate #science

A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on Jul 6, 2016 at 7:09pm PDT

So what does this mean for future space travelers?

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:

"It's like if you hear a car horn and you associate that with an oncoming car — that's a problem in a crosswalk. But if you hear it in your house, [fear extinction] will cause you to freak out because you can't dissociate that the car isn't in your living room."

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.