From the Archives: Effects of Space Travel on the Brain

During the mission on which he was the first man to walk the moon, Neil Armstrong, who passed away this weekend, spent just eight days total in space. Since then, astronauts have spent months and years in orbit. How has it affected their brains?

Armstrong and other Apollo astronauts reported occasional tiny flashes in their visual fields, even when their eyes were closed, writer Jim Schnabel recounted for us in his story this May, “Would a trip to Mars damage the brain?” NASA-funded researchers are looking for ways to protect astronauts’ brains from this and other effects for the three years it would take to voyage to Mars.

In 1998, a 16-day Spacelab flight explored the effects of weightlessness on the brain and nervous system through more than two dozen experiments. Physician-astronaut Jay Buckey, Jr., one of the seven Neurolab crew members, wrote about it in Cerebrum in 2005.

–Nicky Penttila

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