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WASHINGTON — Simulations with animal models meant to mirror galactic cosmic radiation exposure to astronauts are raising red flags for investigators at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) about the health of astronauts during long voyages, such as to Mars.

Their most recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that deep space bombardment by galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) could significantly damage gastrointestinal (GI) tissue leading to long-term functional alterations. The study also raises concern about high risk of tumor development in the stomach and colon.

Their previous work has highlighted potential impairment to brain tissue as well as accelerated aging on long space trips due to the effect of energetic heavy ions, which don’t affect Earthlings due to the protective global magnetosphere.

“Heavy ions such as iron and silicon are damaging because of their greater mass compared to no-mass photons such as x-rays and gamma (γ)-rays prevalent on earth as well as low mass protons in outer space,” says the study’s senior investigator, Kamal Datta, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and a project leader of the NASA Specialized Center of Research (NSCOR) at GUMC.

“With the current shielding technology,

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