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This May 12, 2016 image provided by NASA shows the planet Mars. On Sunday, May 22, 2016, the sun and Mars will be on exact opposite sides of Earth. (NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team - STScI/AURA, J. Bell - ASU, M. Wolff - Space Science Institute via AP)

Cosmic rays could severely damage an astronaut's brain during the long trip to Mars


Humans traveling to Mars seems to be increasingly both inevitable and, perhaps, even imminent.

But a new study published in Scientific Reports on Monday says the trip alone could severely damage the brains of astronauts making the long journey to the fourth planet.

While traveling between planets. would-be Mars travelers won't have protection from cosmic rays. University of California-Irvine researchers bombarded rodents with particles and found some disturbing mental results.

'Fear extinction' and memory

Researchers found the irradiation reduced "fear extinction," or the ability to reduce fear of something over time by exposing yourself to it. That could make you extremely anxious on the way to Mars. The radiation also affected parts of the brain tied to fear and memory.

Cosmic rays are high-energy particles traveling through space at nearly the speed of light. The Earth's magnetic field deflects most cosmic rays, but traveling outside that field exposes astronauts to a virtual firehose of particles that over time can damage tissue.

The radiation thing is often brought up, but I think it's not too big of a deal.
Elon Musk, CEO of Space X

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, dismissed discussion of radiation at the International Astronautical Conference.

But Jim Logan, a medical expert for NASA, told CNET he was underplaying the dangers of space.

It's dangerous and probably, people will die. And they'll know that. And then they'll pave the way.
Musk, to The Washington Post

The Red Planet is already a hostile place. It's frigid, with an average temperature of -67 degrees Fahrenheit. The low gravity could over time damage human skeletons and muscles, Vox reports.

Oh, and there's not really any oxygen to breathe. 

But people like Musk are aware of the challenges.

Would you go to Mars if you could?

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