The human body must overcome many different obstacles in order to travel in space, and this includes what amounts to rewiring the brain, according to a new study conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA) and international research team Roscosmos.
The peer-reviewed academic journal Frontiers in Neural Circuits, showed the first-ever analysis of changes in the structural connectivity of the brains of astronauts caused by long-term spaceflights.
A number of studies have pointed out the many physiological effects that can be caused by a long duration in space. According to NASA, the main stressors in space, specifically on hypothetical Mars missions, have been collectively designated under the acronym of RIDGE.
RIDGE stands for Radiation, Isolation and Confinement, Distance from Earth, Gravity fields and Hostile/Closed Environments.
These various factors impact the body in many ways. For example, due to the difference in gravity, astronauts’ weight-bearing bones lose on average 1%-1.5% of mineral density per month, and bone loss might not be able to be fully healed after they land.
Astronauts also lose muscle mass faster, and the fluids shifting to the head due to gravity can cause vision problems. The entire change messes with hand-eye and head-eye coordination and balance and is known to cause motion sickness.
Furthermore, the effects of gravity can also cause increased calcium excretion from bones and dehydration, which in turn can lead to developing kidney stones.
But while scientists are well aware of all of this, how spaceflight impacts the brain is something less understood. They have, however, theorized some sort of effect was likely.
A few prior studies have been done, using MRI scans, and these have found some evidence of changes in the brain, but more research was still needed.
Firstly, the results supported the concept of the learned brain, which means that the brain adapts to spaceflight and the many challenges it has, such as the weightlessness of micro-gravity.
We found changes in the neural connections between several motor areas of the brain. Motor areas are brain centers where commands for movements are initiated.
In weightlessness, an astronaut needs to adapt his or her movement strategies drastically, compared to Earth. Our study shows that their brain is rewired, so to speak.
These changes weren’t exactly temporary either. When looking at the follow-up scans, these changes could still be seen.
Considering the fact that, at minimum, a flight to Mars would last nine months, it is possible that longer trips in space could have even more pronounced impacts on the human brain. Without a countermeasure in place, it could become considerably difficult.
However, it does once again reinforce the importance of finding what would be, in theory, an ideal solution, Artificial gravity.
However, as of yet, no way to actually have functional and viable artificial gravity has emerged. As such, other countermeasures will likely be needed.
Ultimately, learning more about how the brain is impacted by time in space can help us understand more about space travel and how humanity can begin spreading further into the universe around us.
Jerusalem / ABC Flash Point News 2022.