Governments and companies are stepping up their efforts to get people into space. The side effects of space travel are now being observed and researched all the more closely.
For a study, two MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging) were carried out on 15 astronauts before their flight into space and four more after their return. Result: Weightlessness affects the brain tissue, especially with regard to those regions that serve as channels for liquids. The total volume of the so-called perivascular space responsible for this has increased among the novice astronauts, the study finds.
It is different with experienced astronauts: no changes could be detected in them. They already had those enlarged tunnels for the fluids in the brain at the beginning of the study, before going into space. The change in the brain could therefore be permanent, or it could take a very long time for the brain to return to its previous state.
According to ScienceAlert, it’s still unclear whether the change is significant enough to be considered a major health risk for aspiring space travelers. The results are definitely relevant for the commercial space industry. It brings paying customers into space with less education. It will be important for them to know the implications of leaving Earth. For example, the SpaceX Starship is supposed to take the Japanese billionaire and space tourist Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in 2023.
In general, flying into space and returning from there involves extreme physical exertion. When they take off, the rockets have to reach the exit speed of the earth – around eleven kilometers per second. In space, astronauts train two hours a day to counteract the physical stress that microgravity puts on the body. The training is also a proven way to prevent astronauts from fainting after returning from space.