Spaceflight does a number on our bodies. We lose muscle mass and density, fluids shift in strange ways, there’s even evidence that radiation exposure in space increases risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Now, new research has revealed that long-term missions expand brain tissue with some scary results.
In all the research done on how spaceflight affects the body, there’s been fairly little done on the brain, specifically brain tissue and the cerebrospinal fluid space. However, hat’s not because astronauts don’t show signs of some kind of brain changes when they return from a stint on the International Space Station.
Many exhibit symptoms of an ill-understood condition called "visual impairment intracranial pressure” syndrome (VIIP). Astronauts report poorer vision upon landing that can last for years, and physicals show some of the cause is swelling of the eye's optic disk as well as increased pressure in the skull. So, a team of set out to study these changes before they happen. They used MRIs to look at astronauts’ brains before and after long and short duration missions; 165 days on average for long and 13 days on average short flights.
Physicians then read the scans looking for displacement of brain tissue and narrowing of cerebrospinal fluid spaces. That is the space where the spinal fluid roots in the brain. One point of interest was the central sulcus, a cleft running through the middle of the brain that divides the areas responsible for motor control and sensory input.