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Space Travel Takes Toll On Astronauts’ Brains, New Study Shows

Astronauts who complete missions of at least six months should wait three years for brain to recover, says University of Florida study.

WASHINGTON — Space travel takes its toll on astronauts’ brains, new research reveals.

Frequent flyers, who are traveling outside Earth’s gravity, should wait at least three years after long missions to allow the physiological changes in their brains to reset.

When researchers studied brain scans of 30 astronauts, from before and after space travel, they found that the brain’s ventricles expanded significantly in those who completed longer missions of at least six months.

Ventricles are cavities in the brain filled with cerebrospinal fluid which provides protection, nourishment and waste removal in the brain.

With this amount of expansion, less than three years may not be enough time for them to fully recover. This is because mechanisms in the human body effectively distribute fluids throughout the body.

But, with the absence of gravity, the fluid shifts upward, pushing the brain higher within the skull causing the ventricles to expand.

Through this expansion, the brain is compressed, leading to brain tissue being destroyed or damaged.

Luckily for the future of space tourism, those who were in space for under two weeks saw no change in their brain’s structure.

Study author Dr. Rachael Seidler, a Professor of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at the University of Florida, said: “We found that the more time people spent in space, the larger their ventricles became”.

Mae Jemison was the first African American woman in space. Originally a physician, Jemison went back for her engineering degree and became an astronaut. Photo: Courtesy of NASA 

“Many astronauts travel to space more than one time, and our study shows it takes about three years between flights for the ventricles to fully recover”.

“The biggest jump comes when you go from two weeks to six months in space”.

“There is no measurable change in the ventricles’ volume after only two weeks”.

According to Dr. Seidler, ventricular expansion is the most enduring change seen in the brain resulting from spaceflight.

She said: “We don’t yet know for sure what the long-term consequences of this are on the health and behavioral health of space travelers”.

“So allowing the brain time to recover seems like a good idea”.

Out of the 30 astronauts, eight traveled on two-week missions, 18 were on six-month missions and four were in space for around a year. After six months, the ventricular enlargement tapered off.

With increased interest in space tourism in recent years this is good news as shorter space junkets appear to cause little physiological changes to the brain.

She added: “We were happy to see that the changes don’t increase exponentially, considering we will eventually have people in space for longer periods”.

The study was published in the Journal Scientific Reports.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker. 

Edited by Daisy Atino and Daniel Mackisack

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