A research funded by NASA has found that the brain shape of astronauts was undergoing considerable changes as they float in microgravity, even during short space flights, triggering the inevitable question about sending humans on a long Mars journey.
The research, conducted by scientists of the Medical University of South Carolina, University Hospital Frankfurt in Germany, and Shihezi University in China, showed MRI imaging to examine the brain shape changes of 314 astronauts before and after their space missions.
The scientists finally noticed considerable changes in the brain of astronauts soon after their space flight. Researchers also found out that even short missions in space will alter the brain shape of astronauts. The study report is now published in the New England Journal of Medicine but the main question before researchers is to prepare the astronauts for a Mars journey that may last for more than nine months.
Will change in brain shape pose a risk to astronauts?
NASA funded this exclusive study, as many astronauts complained of altered vision or increased pressure in their heads while in orbit. According to experts, this condition is called visual impairment and intracranial pressure syndrome, and after the study, the researchers came to the conclusion that it is the shape change of brain which is causing these symptoms.
Scientists are now busy studying the risks posed by space flights on the health of astronauts. "We know these long-duration flights take a big toll on the astronauts and cosmonauts. However, we don't know if the adverse effects on the body continue to progress or if they stabilize after some time in space. These are the questions that we are interested in addressing, especially what happens to the human brain and brain function," said Dr Rona Roberts, the lead author of the study.
The researchers who took part in the study found that 17 out of the 18 astronauts who were in space for an average time of 164 days developed shape changes in their brains. In these astronauts, the central sulcus of the brain which separates the parietal and frontal lobes was narrowed.
Three out of the 16 astronomers who went to space for a very short period of time also developed similar brain shape changes. According to experts, narrowing of the spaces filled with cerebrospinal fluid is resulting in the increased pressure on the brain.
Space flights increase the height of astronauts
Earlier, a research has found that the height of the astronauts used to get increased by one inch after they spent one year in space. This finding indicates the peculiar nature of the human body to adapt itself to the conditions in which it is living. According to experts, the spinal cord of astronauts used to increase in microgravity conditions, and this is the reason behind the height gain of space travelers. Interestingly, the increased height used to get shortened after these astronauts live on the Earth for three or four months. Now the scientists have to find the link between the increase in body height to shrinking of the brain during the space travel.