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Mars mission Risk 29: Scientists research ways to reduce radiation-induced brain damage

Among the gravest risks of a manned flight to Mars ranks the possibility that massive amounts of solar and cosmic radiation will decimate the brains of astronauts, leaving them in a vegetative state, if they survive at all.

Dubbed "Risk 29" by NASA's Mars scientists, the cosmic radiation risk remains a show-stopper because shielding a spacecraft from all radiation could make it too heavy to reach Mars, which, at its closest, is 38 million miles from earth.

Now, medical scientists have been tasked to determine the human brain's maximum safe cosmic radiation dose and to decipher precisely how radiation causes cognitive impairment, part of a quest for biological countermeasures to reduce radiation-related cognitive impairment.

The NASA-funded $14-million research project could not only help eliminate the risks to astronauts, it could unravel the biomechanics of brain damage, potentially benefiting patients with degenerative neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

"This research may not only help make it safer to go to Mars, it could lead us to a deeper understanding of how the brain functions," said one of the principal investigators, Richard A. Britten, Ph.D., associate professor of radiation oncology and biophysics at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va. "That eventually could help patients dealing with conditions that cause dementia."

The idea of a manned mission to Mars has captured the imagination for decades, and gained force after the Astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon in 1969. But flying to Mars, even without humans aboard, is a monumentally risky engineering feat. Since 1998, the United States has completed seven Mars missions. Four failed when the Mars landers were lost on arrival.

As part of a new push to put a man on Mars, NASA has sketched out a roadmap laying out 45 risks to astronauts in a space mission that is likely to last two years. Those risks incl
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Source:Eastern Virginia Medical School


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