Astronauts Could Pay A Terrible Price For Traveling To Mars, Says NASA-Funded Study

Let’s just say, the findings may make you reconsider signing up for any upcoming missions. Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

On its 60th birthday, NASA announced some seriously ambitious goals. Not only does the agency want to make its way back to the moon in 10 years, but they also want to hit up Mars in 20. But just because the space agency says they’re ready to launch people to the Red Planet, it doesn’t mean humans are all that capable of the venture.

A new study published in PNAS raises red flags about the health impact of being in space for a prolonged period of time, such as a voyage to Mars. Let’s just say, the findings may make you reconsider signing up for any upcoming missions.

To test the biological effects of deep space radiation, researchers subjected the small intestines of mice to a bombardment of galactic cosmic radiation similar to what astronauts receive in deep space. The mice exposed to heavy ions were then compared with those exposed to gamma rays (which have similar levels of radiation as X-rays) and to a third unexposed group. They found radiation could cause significant damage to the gastrointestinal tissue, leading to long-term functional alterations and a high risk of developing tumors in the stomach and colon.  

The intestinal cells of mice exposed to heavy ions also did not adequately absorb nutrients. Furthermore, ion radiation caused DNA damage that affected the migration of cells needed to replace the intestinal lining for healthy GI functioning. The damage appears to be permanent.

“We have documented the effects of deep space radiation on some vital organs, but we believe that similar damage responses may occur in many organs,” explained senior investigator Kamal Datta in a statement. “It is important to understand these effects in advance so we can do everything we can to protect our future space travelers.”

 Animation showing Mars as seen from MER-B (Opportunity). NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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