Space odysseys are fraught with dangers, and sustained stay in space could have an adverse impact on the health of astronauts. The next big step for humankind will be a journey to Mars, and it is important to know the long-term effects of space travel on the human body. A recent study conducted by scientists led by Rachael Seidler, a professor at the University of Michigan which envisages studying the brains of astronauts have found anomalies of gray matter in different sections of the brain of astronauts.
26 astronauts were studies and included 12 shuttle crew members and 14 members who spent up to six months aboard the ISS. Every astronaut had different changes in gray matter in various sections of his brain.
The scientists found large regions where there was a decrease in gray matter, and this could be related to the redistribution of cerebrospinal fluids due to the paucity of gravity or weightlessness.It is also one of the reasons for the faces of astronauts looking puffy in space. It is clear that some areas in brain saw a fall in gray matter. However what is interesting is that gray matter increased in those regions of the brain which were related to processing data about movements, in particular, the movement of a person’s legs. This could be because the astronaut’s brain is trying hard to cope- up with the weightless environment.
Many interesting facts also came into light, for example, the changes were more pronounced in those astronauts who spent longer periods aboard the ISS as compared to astronauts who were on short stints aboard the ISS. The study is being conducted under the NASA Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health program.
The study will later try to determine if these changes are permanent or the brain reverts to its earlier state after some time.