How deep-space travel will impact astronauts

How deep-space travel will impact astronauts
Published: May. 10, 2022 at 5:21 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - For more than 60 years, space travel has grown by leaps and bounds.

From our first step on the moon in 1969 to sending the first tourists to space, now the race is on to land an astronaut on Mars.

Related: Privately funded space mission docks at International Space Station

Could this type of deep-space travel have long-lasting and devastating consequences on an astronaut’s health?

Mark Vande Hei is a NASA astronaut who spent 355 days at the International Space Station as part of a mission to observe the effect of long-duration spaceflight on humans.

“We’re getting people up in space for longer and longer periods of time,” Vande Hei said.

It will take nearly three times as long to send a person to Mars, exposing them to deep-space radiation.

“Space radiation is a completely different beast compared to x-rays and gamma rays,” said Dr. Sandeep Burma.

Researchers at UT Health San Antonio have been working to find out how space radiation impacts the cancer risk of astronauts, especially when it comes to a type of aggressive brain tumor called glioblastoma.

“The nuclei of atoms are especially dangerous,” Burma said. “They are essentially moving at nearly the speed of light and they’re highly penetrating.”

The radiation goes straight through an astronaut’s helmet, protective shields and their brains.

“Astronauts report seeing flashes of light,” Burma said. “Those flashes of light are caused by these ions hitting their, brain cells.”

Burma’s team used a particle accelerator to mimic the impact of the radiation in deep-space. The preliminary studies in mice show it does trigger tumors.

“Even very small doses of space radiation can be very, very carcinogenic,” Burma said.

That doesn’t mean we can’t travel to Mars, but that we need to find ways to protect the men and women going there.

More: Health stories

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