The pervasiveness of deep space radiation remains a confounding factor for the transit of humans through our solar system. Spacecraft shielding both protects astronauts but also contributes to absorbed dose through galactic cosmic ray interactions that produce secondary particles. The resultant biological effects drop to a minimum for aluminum shielding around 20 g/cm2 but increase with additional shielding. The present work evaluates for the first time, the impact of secondary pions on central nervous system functionality. The fractional pion dose emanating from thicker shielded spacecraft regions could contribute up to 10% of the total absorbed radiation dose. New results from the Paul Scherrer Institute have revealed that low dose exposures to 150 MeV positive and negative pions, akin to a Mars mission, result in significant, long-lasting cognitive impairments. These surprising findings emphasize the need to carefully evaluate shielding configurations to optimize safe exposure limits for astronauts during deep space travel.

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