Skip to main content

Studies suggest zero gravity environments have negative effects on the human brain

penn state astronaut waste nastronaut
NASA
At some point if your life, you’ve probably had aspirations about space travel. After all, it seems like every five-year-old wants to be an astronaut, and as missions to the moon, Mars, and other extraterrestrial bodies become more and more accessible, the idea of jetting off Earth seems less and less far-fetched. But before you get too excited about going into space, you might want to consider the effects space missions have on the human brain. As it turns out, the effects are a bit alarming.

As NASA begins its search for new astronauts to populate the International Space Station and travel to Mars, new studies from the agency are also warning candidates of the potential physiological toll that being away from the planet for extended periods of time may have. In fact, a number of different studies have suggested that long missions in outer space have significant effects on astronauts’ brains — as one recent NASA study found, “a microgravity environment can lead to changes in brain structure and take a serious toll on astronauts’ ability to think.” According to its results, astronauts who’d spent six months on the ISS “had a more difficult time completing mental tasks and with physical coordination.”

Furthermore, preliminary findings from an ongoing European Space Agency and Roscosmos study reveal that the cortex of the brain actually reorganizes itself in order to adapt to the new environment at play in space. While the study will continue into 2018, initial discoveries have already been published in the journal Brain Structure and Function.

Given that human beings are not meant to exist in space, it comes as little surprise that there are a number of factors in outer space that take a toll on our bodies. “Factors that can have an impact consist of, but are not limited to, weightlessness, cosmic radiation, isolation, confinement and disturbed day-night rhythm,” Angelique Van Ombergen of the University of Antwerp told The Huffington Post. “As one can imagine, all these factors can have an impact on the human brain, as they are new, challenging and stressful.”

But these results aren’t just meant to scare people away from venturing into space — rather, better understanding the effects of space travel could help scientists figure out how to adapt astronauts and their extraterrestrial environments to the extenuating circumstances at play. After all, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to stop going to Mars anytime soon, so we better learn all we can about how to get there safely, and fast.

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
SpaceX sees its eight-year-long flawless Falcon 9 launch streak broken
spacex falcon 9 failure screenshot 2024 07 12 194546

SpaceX has established itself as a champion of reusable commercial rockets, with the enormous success of its Falcon 9 rocket making the company the benchmark against which other commercial launch operations are judged. The Falcon 9, which carries satellites for commercial entities and space agencies into low-Earth orbit, had a long string of flawless launches. But its most recent launch failed to deploy its payloads correctly, breaking that streak and serving as a reminder that even with well-trusted technology, space operations are still a challenge.

The launch was scheduled for yesterday, July 11, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The Falcon 9 rocket was carrying 20 Starlink satellites to be added to SpaceX's communications network. The booster separated from the rocket as planned and landed on SpaceX's droneship for reuse, but a problem occurred with the rocket's upper stage due to a leak of liquid oxygen.

Read more
A spaceship just left the ISS, but it wasn’t the Starliner
Boeing Space's Starliner docked at the International Space Station in June 2024.

NASA recently live streamed the departure of a spaceship from the International Space Station (ISS), but it wasn’t Boeing’s Starliner, which is staying longer than expected at the orbital outpost due to technical issues.

On Friday, the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm detached Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft from the Unity module before gently nudging it away from the Earth-orbiting facility.

Read more
There’s a cave on the moon where astronauts could possibly live
lunar lava tubes on the moon

Getting humans into space is hard enough, but having them stay on another body for any length of time is even more challenging. When astronauts visited the moon in the Apollo missions, they lived in their spacecraft for the few days of their missions. But in the future NASA wants to send astronauts to visit places like the moon or Mars for longer -- for periods of weeks or even months. That means they'll need a home habitat of some kind to live in, perform research, and perhaps even grow crops.

Some suggestions for how to build lightweight habitats that are easier to transport include creating inflatable habitats or even growing habitats from fungus. But the most efficient option might be for astronauts to find locations that already exist where they can stay. That's the hope of research into lava tubes -- underground caves found on both the moon and Mars that were created by the movement of lava long ago.

Read more