About this Research Topic
Human space exploration has resulted in extraordinary accomplishments and advancements in the past nearly six decades, from Yuri Gagarin's first spaceflight to the continuous human presence on the International Space Station now. We are preparing to achieve even more by returning to the Moon and planning for a future journey to Mars. Although space and rocket technology has rapidly progressed (e.g., now we have re-usable rockets), many challenges need to be addressed before planning successful deep-space human exploration class missions. The space environment requires human beings to live and operate for long periods under various hazards, e.g., radiation, sustained altered gravity fields, isolated/confined/extreme (ICE) conditions, altered microbiota, altered CO2, lack of fresh foods, etc. These stressors' negative impact on crew's central nervous system (CNS), cognitive, and behavioral health could be additive, antagonistic, or synergistic over long-duration missions, that we do not know yet.
It is known that brain reorganization occurs as an adaptive response to altered gravitational input (e.g., altered afferent and efferent signals). In space, the brain also undergoes functional and structural changes related to fluid shift. Also, based on available evidence, galactic cosmic radiation seems to accelerate brain aging and neurodegenerative processes. Further, the Earth-based ICE environment (e.g., winter-over in Antarctica) has shown significant psychological consequences. Thus, overall, brain changes induced by spaceflight hazards may significantly affect the crew's performance, and it may not be optimal for operations on a planetary surface or in the case of an emergency landing.
Despite the growing interest and research on these important issues, potential long-lasting effects of spaceflight hazards are still under investigation, particularly on the CNS and behavior. Research on the impact of radiation, altered gravity, ICE, and other spaceflight stressors on the human brain/behavior is crucial for identifying effective countermeasures and the success of future human spaceflight missions. It also constitutes an opportunity to address scientific issues in a unique environment that will benefit human life on Earth. Indeed, analogous brain/behavioral changes may also occur on Earth in individuals with vestibular disorders, in patients suffering from neurological diseases, and in individuals undergoing, for example, immobilization, peripheral deafferentation, or radiotherapy.
The primary objective of this Research Topic is to collect original research, short communications, reviews, research protocols, case reports, opinion papers, and hypotheses on 1) studies in space crews, 2) studies in terrestrial space analogs, 3) countermeasures against harmful effects of spaceflight on the human brain/behavior, 4) Earth-based clinical research models relevant to spaceflight.
Specifically, contributions on the following topics are welcome: spaceflight associated CNS modifications; spaceflight associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS); spaceflight associated cognitive/behavioral changes; CNS/cognitive/behavioral changes as studied through ground-based space analogs (e.g., Head-Down Bed Rest, Parabolic Flights, Dry Immersion, Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation (GVS), Earth-based ICE environments, etc.), Earth-based clinical models (e.g., patients with vestibular disorders, patients undergoing radiation, etc.), spaceflight countermeasures (e.g., physical exercise, artificial gravity, GVS, evidence-based cognitive/behavioral training, pharmaceutical countermeasures, diet, etc.) for promoting brain health.
Image credits: Astronaut Thomas Pesquet in the ISS, with a brain image analyzed with diffusion tensor imaging. Courtesy ESA and project BRAIN-DTI.
Keywords: Space, Brain, Central Nervous System, Behavior, Performance
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