Mission to Mars: Astronaut Brains

While the world is preparing for a long-term space mission to Mars, one thing has scientists thinking. Astronaut’s brains.

Experiencing micro-gravity changes a lot of things in our bodies. From the shape of our eyes to our ability to do small motor tasks, our Mission to Mars relies on our ability to function at our best.

Changes in vision, and why it matters

astronaut eyes mission to mars
Courtesy of RSNA

Without gravity astronaut’s eyes begin to flatten out in the back. It might not look like a big deal, but that flattening changes all the optics in our eyes. Not only are we seeing things differently, but imagine how confused the brain gets when our inner ear tells us we are falling fast, while our eyes tell us nothing is amiss.

Usually, our inner ear and vision work together to help us balance. Here’s a challenge for you: stand on one leg with your eyes closed. Wasn’t so easy was it? Our vision is a feedback loop for our inner ear which creates our balance. Without vision, or with changing vision, our balance is going to be off kilter!


Astronaut brains and molecular diffusion

Not only do their eyes and ability to balance change, but the brain’s ability to diffuse molecules through the brain changes. This affects their ability to perform fine motor tasksCan you tell which brain is from an astronaut on the ground and one in microgravity?

astronaut brain studybrain

Do you think molecules would be able to travel farther in the brain with or without gravity? What we are studying now is how these changes will affect astronauts on a long-term space mission to Mars. Will astronaut’s brains get used to the micro-gravity? We don’t know yet, but we will certainly have to before a visit to the Red Planet!