To be sure, six weeks of radiation won’t hurt humans who have larger brains. But over the period of many months, which is what a Mars mission would require, humans would suffer from similar cognitive deficits. Short trips, say to the Moon, should be safer.

Staying cognitively sharp to face any unexpected situation during a space mission is a matter of life or death, especially when any communication with the Earth will have increasing delays introduced by the growing distance between the spacecraft and our terrestrial home. NASA has been investing heavily in testing the feasibility of sending humans to Mars, and this study was the first to test the effects of space radiation on cognition in such detail.

According to the lead scientist of the study, Charles Limoli, there is no way to fully escape high-energy particles. Trying to carry effective shields is currently prohibitively expensive—the heavier the shielding equipment, the more rocket fuel you need.

Instead Limoli suggests that some preventative measures could help like padding the resting and sleeping areas or taking drugs that contain free radicals, which reduce the damage. There is even a suggestion that astronauts’ pee and poop be used to line the spacecraft (water is more effective than metals at protecting against space radiation).

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