Jan. 2 - A new study has found that prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation could increase the risk of developing neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. The findings raise questions about the dangers associated with future manned mission to Mars. Sharon Reich has more.
These astronauts are shaking out their nerves. After all, spacewalking is dangerous business. One false move could prove fatal. But according to Dr. M. Kerry O'Banion and his research team at the University of Rochester Medical Center, astronauts of the future, those taking long journeys to Mars or the Asteroid Belt, may have have even more to worry about. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. M. KERRY O'BANION, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER, SAYING: "In addition to the known risks that are already out in space including potential risks of cancer or other kinds of problems such as cataracts that have already been reported in radiation experiments like ours, there is also the potential that you could exacerbate neuro-degenerative disease. " The researchers exposed lab mice to high levels of cosmic radiation, the same amount an astronaut would be exposed to over the three years it would take to get to Mars. They found that the mice began showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. O'Banion says current spacecraft technology works well to protect against solar radiation, but it isn't designed to shield against increased levels of high mass, high charged, cosmic radiation found outside of Earth's orbit. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. M. KERRY O'BANION, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER, SAYING: "The galactic cosmic radiation that we studied in our paper is different. It has a very high velocity, high mass charged particles that arise in space apparently through Super Novas and other galactic events. These particles are very challenging to shield against with conventional materials. One needs large thicknesses of water, concrete or lead. my understanding is that currently we don't have the technology to shield effectively in space craft against these events because we can't carry that much material." NASA currently has plans for a manned mission to an asteroid in 2021 and a trip to Mars scheduled for 2035. O'Banion is confident that over the next few years, researchers will develop methods to protect against these radioactive particles. Ensuring that in the future, astronauts can focus on their mission, without having to worry about their exposure to cosmic radiation.