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May 26, 2022

Brains in Space

The infinite adventure of space travel has us reaching for the stars, but the harsh environment of space poses serious physical challenges on our bodies. Scientists reviewed MRI images of the brains of 14 astronauts, taken before and after extended stays on the International Space Station, to see the effect of space travel on the brain. Learn more on NSF's "The Discovery Files."

Credit: National Science Foundation

Brains in Space

This is The Discovery Files, from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Space exploration has captured the human imagination since the 1950s. From real-world missions to sci-fi movies, we continue to explore space travel.

While the physiological stressors of space travel have been studied, no research evaluated the affects on the brain, until now.

Supported in part by NSF, a team led by the Oregon Health and Science University and the University of Florida reviewed MRI images of the brains of 14 astronauts, taken before and after extended stays on the International Space Station.

Researchers have learned there are affects in the fluid-filled spaces in the brain. This research can help scientists determine how to mitigate the effect of extended space travel on the human body.

The team found the perivascular space in the brain, the area around blood vessels, does increase more for first-time astronauts when compared to veteran crewmembers. This occurs naturally as we age but is also associated with dementia.

And while no astronauts experienced negative neurological deficits, the findings did highlight how frequency and duration of spaceflight can affect brain fluid.

As our exploration ambitions shift towards manned flights to Mars, these studies will prove invaluable as we push the boundaries of what is possible -- to infinity and beyond.

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