Stay on target Scientists Discover Possible Interstellar VisitorWater Vapor Detected on Potentially ‘Habitable’ Planet After 60 years of space exploration, scientists are only beginning to understand how cosmic travel affects the human body.And we’ve barely left Earth’s orbit.Imagine the implications of living on the Moon or mining on Mars.A new study from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) raised red flags about the health of astronauts during long voyages—specifically those planned for the Red Planet and beyond.Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the report suggests that deep-space bombardment by galactic cosmic radiation could “significantly” damage gastrointestinal tissue. It also raises concerns about the high risk of tumor development in the stomach and colon.Heavy ions—like the silicon and iron in the Martian crust (oxidation of iron dust is what gives the surface its reddish hue)—are highly damaging due to their greater mass, compared with no-mass photons from X-rays and gamma rays.“With the current shielding technology, it is difficult to protect astronauts from the adverse effects of heavy ion radiation,” according to senior investigator Kamal Datta, an associate professor and project leader of the NASA Specialized Center of Research at GUMC.Effects like a faulty GI tract, the all-important organ that collects and digests food, extracts and absorbs energy and nutrients, and expels waste. Its top layer of cells is replaced every three to five days.“Any disturbance of this replacement mechanism leads to malfunctioning of physiologic processes,” co-author Albert Fornace Jr. explained, “and starts pathologic processes such as cancer.”The good news is, there may be a way to use medicine to counter these effects. The bad new: No such agent has been developed yet.To investigate further, the GUMC team used mouse intestines as a model system, exposing the animals to a low dose of iron radiation over the equivalent of a months-long period in deep space.Researchers then compared the critters that received heavy ions with those exposed to gamma rays, as well as an unexposed control group.Sadly, the intestinal cells in the heavy ion group did not adequately absorb nutrients and instead formed cancerous polyps.“While short trips, like the times astronauts traveled to the Moon, may not expose [astronauts] to this level of damage, the real concern is lasting injury from a long trip, such as Mars or other deep-space missions which would be much longer,” Datta, also a member of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a statement.“It is important to understand these effects in advance so we can do everything we can to protect our future space travelers,” he added.In April 1970, the crew of NASA’s Apollo 13 mission flew around the far side of the Moon—some 248,655 miles from Earth, marking the farthest our species has ever been from home.Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa was announced last month as SpaceX’s first private astronaut. Meanwhile, scientists have made some shocking interstellar discoveries recently. Read up on all things outer space here.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.