Entries in NASA (2)


Cosmic Radiation Could Cause Alzheimer's in Mars Astronauts

NASA(NEW YORK) -- Space travel has always been portrayed as risky -- no air or water, extreme temperatures -- a place where even a small miscalculation can be fatal. It can also be hazardous to your brain health, particularly on a three-year-long mission to Mars, according to a study published this week in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The eight-year long study, conducted at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory on New York's Long Island, found that the cosmic radiation on such a mission could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

NASA is working on sending astronauts to a passing asteroid in the 2020s, and talks of a trip to Mars in the 2030s. It would take three years, with current technology, to get there and back. Current spacecraft are not heavily shielded from the cosmic radiation crew members would encounter beyond Earth's protective magnetic field.

Researchers used mice that were genetically engineered to be predisposed to Alzheimer's disease. They exposed them to cosmic radiation that was simulated in the lab.

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said Dr. M. Kerry O'Banion, senior author and professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The study team wanted to see if radiation had the potential to accelerate Alzheimer's in those who were genetically vulnerable. Mouse models have been used extensively in this type of research and the rate at which they develop the disease is well understood.

Scientists have long worried about the potential dangers of working and living in deep space. Cosmic radiation beyond low Earth orbit, researchers say, could lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even cataracts.

Radiation exposure can cause acute effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, skin injury and changes to white blood cell counts and the immune system, according to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. Longer-term radiation effects include damage to the eyes, gastrointestinal system, lungs and central nervous system.

On Earth, humans are protected by the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. Crew members on the International Space Station, at an altitude of 200 miles, are still within the magnetic sheath that surrounds us. The 24 Apollo astronauts who flew to the moon between 1969 and 1972 were not protected, but the longest missions lasted less than two weeks.

Once out of low orbit, astronauts are exposed to showers of different radioactive particles. Though engineers say they can protect themselves from the radiation associated with solar flares, so far, they cannot block other forms of cosmic radiation.

The longer astronauts are in deep space, the greater the exposure to this low-level radiation.

This is the first such study to explore effects of radiation on the nervous system, a phenomenon known as neurodegeneration, according to the authors.

"The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized," said O'Banion. "However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Feel the Freezer Burn: Losing Weight by Chilling the Body

Courtesy - Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- When popular diet plans failed, Ray Cronise, former NASA scientist and founder of Zero G Corp., says he found an extraordinary way to lose weight by tapping into the laws of thermodynamics: he was going to literally freeze his butt off.

"The current paradigm of losing weight is diet versus exercise, calories in, calories out. I was able to do was figure out that another big part is the environment we're in. Our body temperature remains constant and it takes a lot of energy to keep it that way, no different than heating your house," Cronise says.

By exposing his body to cold in the right ways, he theorized, he could boost his weight loss. In fact, he doubled how fast he lost weight using these techniques, losing 30 pounds in six weeks.

"I treated my body like a thermostat…to see if I could run up the utility bill and get the furnace, [my metabolism,] running at full blast," he explained in a presentation on his weight loss given at Wednesday's TEDMED conference.

Cronise's inspiration came when, desperate to find a more efficient way to lose weight, he heard that Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps ate 12,000 calories worth of food a day. Even with all the athlete's physical activity, it didn't make sense to Cronise why he would need that much.

"Then I found out it was the water," he says, because the cool water forced Phelp's body to constantly fight to maintain its temperature.

It turns out, this phenomenon was well-studied by the military and the space program in the 1950s and 1960s, only in the context of keeping weight on soldiers in cold, harsh environments, not on weight loss.

Using swimming and something called thermal loading, where the body is exposed to cold in various ways, Cronise applied this decades-old research and found that he could lose up to four pounds a week.

"You really think you're burning all these calories because you're sweating [when you work out], but when you're cold you burn way more calories," he said in his presentation.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio