It’s true: we dream of travelling in space. But do we really know all the associated risks? For example, could we get brain damage from traveling in space? Apparently, yes, at least for an extended time away from Earth.
We don’t really have a lot of time exploring space. That’s why these tests are pertinent. They were done on five cosmonauts. They found elevated concentrations of three biomarkers that could be an indication of brain damage. They had an average of 169 days away from Earth.
Other abnormalities were detected earlier. For example, decreased cortical volume or shrinkage of the encephalon. “There is evidence of brain cell damage in blood tests.” Says neuroscientist Henrik Zetterberg of the University of Gothenburg (Sweden).
It is unclear to what extent, if at all, cosmonauts’ brains may be damaged. But these biomarkers are often associated with neurological disorders.
The research is still at an early stage. More data from more people would be needed. “We need to find out what causes the damage. Biomarkers could help us remedy the problem,” says Zetterberg.
Biomarkers were elevated at the same rate in all cosmonauts. This is another indication of a substantial increase in risk.
Expanding the sample
This small study does not explain why these changes in the brain occur. You don’t have a wide enough range with so few people. The option is to replicate space travel conditions on Earth. Then we won’t have to leave the surface.
“We have to help each other. And find out if there really is brain damage from traveling in space,” says Zetterberg.
“Is it the weightlessness? Is it the changes in the brain fluid? Is it the stress associated with launching and landing, or is it caused by something else? There’s a lot of exciting experimental studies that can be done here in humans on Earth.”