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Study: Long periods of weightlessness caused changes in the brain

Scientists studying the brains of 30 astronauts who spent from two weeks to one year on ISS have found that the longer a person stayed in weightlessness the greater the changes caused in the brain, and the longer it takes to recover.

Their findings, reported today in Scientific Reports, reveal that the brain’s ventricles expand significantly in those who completed longer missions of at least six months, and that less than three years may not provide enough time for the ventricles to fully recover.

Ventricles are cavities in the brain filled with cerebrospinal fluid, which provides protection, nourishment and waste removal to the brain. Mechanisms in the human body effectively distribute fluids throughout the body, but in the absence of gravity, the fluid shifts upward, pushing the brain higher within the skull and causing the ventricles to expand.

“We found that the more time people spent in space, the larger their ventricles became,” said Rachael Seidler, a professor of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida and an author of the study. “Many astronauts travel to space more than one time, and our study shows it takes about three years between flights for the ventricles to fully recover.”

You can read the paper here. The expansion of ventricles is a normal process due to aging, but I could not find any description in the paper noting its impact, for good or ill. Long periods of weightlessness brings it about quickly, but only temporarily.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Col Beausabre

    That proves the Democrats are space aliens

  • Alex Andrite

    Please, more informative sources regarding the “twin brothers”, one who did time in space, and the changes which were noted between them.
    This was a big thing at the time.
    Searching for more info now.

  • GaryMike

    Why in micro-gravity would brain fluids move higher into the brain. How would lower brain tissue constrict to force fluids higher into the brain like muscle pumps?

    Capillary-like action no longer constrained/biased by gravity?

    We’re going to move out into the solar system. We’re going to evolve as a species, in many different ways. Over time, our extraterrestrial selves will become the new normal.

    Strange as they’ll be to the rest of us not young enough to participate in off world environmental changes.

  • pzatchok

    I to think we will eventually evolve to fit into space better.

    But before that is even seriously contemplated we will have a simulated gravity on rockets and space stations.

    But I can see us as a species modifying ourselves to better live on marginal or not optimal planets. Lower O2 we get better lungs, higher gravity we get better muscles, less trace elements better cellular biology to handle it.
    But it would be best to keep our core gene structure unchanged as we travel to those worlds. A solid natural baseline to start from. Any problems in space we can deal with with the technology we have now and a lot of effort.

  • markedup2

    I don’t think we’ll evolve – it takes WAY too long. We’ll change ourselves.

    In any case, this sort of research is vitally important to find out just how much gravity is required. Particularly for gestation and raising children, but we have to start somewhere.

    It would be nice if the article included a “so what?” section.
    We don’t yet know for sure what the long-term consequences of this

    Which implies that we do know the short-term consequences. What are they?

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