Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Space Travel Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Space Travel Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

Article excerpt

As if space travel weren't already hazardous enough, a new study shows that cosmic radiation--which would bombard astronauts on a mission to Mars--could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said professor M. Kerry O'Banion of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and senior author of the study. The possibility that radiation exposure in space might give rise to cancer has long been recognized. This study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation could speed up changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Earth's magnetic field generally protects the planet and people in low Earth orbit from cosmic radiation. However, astronauts beyond Earth's orbit are exposed to a constant shower of various radioactive particles. With appropriate warning, astronauts can be shielded from dangerous radiation associated with solar flares. But other forms of cosmic radiation cannot be effectively blocked.

This concerns NASA as the agency plans manned missions to a distant asteroid in 2021 and to Mars in 2035. The round-trip to the red planet, in particular, could take as long as three years.

For over 25 years, NASA has been funding research to determine the potential health risks of space travel in an effort to both develop countermeasures and determine whether the risks outweighed the benefits of sending men and women on extended missions beyond Earth's orbit. …

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