A study funded by NASA in a bid to determine what effects a journey into deep space might have on the health of astronauts has uncovered some startling possibilities for those brave souls who might one day venture to Mars. Per CNN, the findings out of Georgetown University Medical Center suggest that the sort of radiation to which such travelers would be exposed has the potential to cause major intestinal issues, including cancer. It's called galactic cosmic radiation, or GCR, and consists of so-called heavy ions that we're protected from by the magnetosphere that surrounds Earth. Deep in space, as well as on Mars, there is no such protection and scientists say there is no way yet known to prevent exposure with shielding or medications.
Per Inverse, the study bombarded mice with doses of ionizing radiation that mimicked what's found in deep space. Researchers found that long exposure permanently altered the gastrointestinal tracts of the mice in a way that caused them to lose their ability to absorb nutrients. What's more, the mice also developed cancerous growths in their intestines, leading researchers to further worry about the effects of space radiation after previous findings suggested it poses a danger to the brain. “We have documented the effects of deep space radiation on some vital organs, but we believe that similar damage responses may occur in many organs,” wrote senior investigator Kamal Datta. “It is important to understand these effects in advance so we can do everything we can to protect our future space travelers.” (Read more NASA stories.)