Risk 29 addresses the fact that Mars astronauts will be bombarded by high-energy cosmic radiation ?shielded on Earth by the atmosphere and the Van Allen Radiation Belts ?that few medical scientists have studied.
"These are very obscure kinds of radiation that on Earth we would only see in the event of a nuclear disaster," said Britten.
To made matters more complex, one possible trajectory involves flying around Venus and using its gravitational pull to sling the spacecraft toward Mars. That means flying closer to the sun and spending months on the opposite side.
"The sun is basically a big nuclear reactor," said Britten.
The scientists hope to determine how much shielding the spacecrafts and astronauts will need, and also develop other countermeasures that to help reduce radiation-induced brain damage.
To help determine the brain's maximum acceptable dose of solar and cosmic radiation, Britten's team must replicate the type of radiation astronauts will be exposed to in deep space. They then must calculate how much damage is caused by particles with various energy levels.
"There are only a handful of laboratories in the world where these kinds of high-energy particles can be produced," Britten said. His team will be work closely with scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
As part of his $1.2-million segment of the study, the EVMS team will measure physical and behavioral changes in rats exposed to various levels of the type of radiation that Mars astronauts will encounter in space. They will also conduct proteomic analysis of portions of the irradiated brains to obtain more precise details about the biochemical changes.
To date, many scientists have suggested that reduced cognitive impa
Source:Eastern Virginia Medical School