Russian Astronaut Brain Shows Space Travel Creates Lasting Changes

A new study adds evidence that life among the stars does have consequences.

Members of the International space crew, US astronaut Barry Wilmore (L) and Russia's cosmonauts Alexandr Samokutyaev (C) and Elena Serova attend a training session at the Gagarin Cosmonauts' Training Centre in Star City, outside Moscow on August 29, 2014. The crew is to take off from Russian-leased Kazakh Baikonur cosmodrome to the ISS on September 26. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

A study of recently active Russian astronauts shows that space travel does create lasting changes, and adds a layer of concern for one particularly vital organ: the brain. The results show that deformations to brain tissue caused by weightless conditions can linger even after space travelers have been back on Earth for seven months.

The research documents the impacts of space travel on cosmonauts who each spent about 189 days on the International Space Station, reports National Geographic. The research team captured images of 10 male cosmonauts’ brains before and after each mission. They then repeated the scans seven months later for seven of those astronauts.

Spaceflight seems to increase the brain’s cerebrospinal fluid, a liquid that acts as a cushion for your brain and helps maintain pressure.

“We were designed for standing in gravity on Earth, and once that force is released, all the bodily fluids move upward,” said study author Peter zu Eulenburg of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, according to Nat Geo. 

The excess cerebrospinal fluid seems to compress the brain’s gray matter (the neural tissue that contains nerve fibers and nerve-cell bodies), and though the brain largely bounces back after seven months on Earth, some results linger.

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