Houston, We Have Another Problem: Study Shows that Space Travel is Harmful to the Brain
"The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. 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."
Galactic Cosmic Radiation Leads to Cognitive Impairment and Increased AB Plaque Accumulation in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease, PLoS (original research paper)
Keith's note: I can't seem to find any mention of this NASA-funded research at NASA.gov. Given the animal rights controversy that surrounded these experiments, and the results of this specific research project (with clear relevance to missions to asteroids, Mars, etc.), you'd think that NASA would want taxpayers, stakeholders, and the media, to know about these findings. Guess not.
NASA produces a regular listing of publications (NASA Spaceline Current Awareness) on the space life science research it funds. However, NASA is unable to find a way to publish it online. As a result no one really gets to see what the agency does - unless they visit SpaceRef, that is. We have a complete archive online stretching back to 1999.
Keith's update: This PLoS research paper made the rounds of various news outlets - all of them asking the question: Does space travel cause/aggravate Alzheimer's? Given than many of us have had our families directly affected by this disease, stories that mention it tend to get our attention. NASA's public response? Nothing. Yet, its not as if they are not concerned about radiation health (they funded this research after all). This was a perfect opportunity for the agency to show how its research not only serves space exploration needs but also has a relevance to issues facing the public.
By coincidence, this solicitation "Development of the Expandable Coil Concept" was issued today by NASA JSC and shows one way that this issue is being addressed in terms of spacecraft design. Yet another golden opportunity for NASA to link up its research and inform the public. Again, nothing but silence. If NASA does care enough to tell people what they are doing, then how can the agency expect people to care enough to be interested?
NASA JSC Solicitation: Development of the Expandable Coil Concept, NASA JSC
"NASA/JSC has a requirement to continue the study of active radiation shielding for crew protection, a key challenge with human exploration of space."
Radiation Protection and Architecture Utilizing High Temperature Superconducting Magnets, NASA