News / Science & Technology

    Study: Mars Mission Would Pose Serious Health Hazards for Astronauts

    Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)
    x
    Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)
    Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)
    Jessica Berman
    Researchers have published new data showing that long distance space travel, such as a manned mission to Mars, would pose serious health risks to astronauts because of the exposure to deep space radiation. The finding is based on measurements from an instrument on the spaceship that carried the Mars rover, Curiosity, to the Red Planet.

    From the time the U.S. space agency, NASA, launched its Mars Space Laboratory in November 2011, until the time it touched down on the Red Planet, an instrument called the Radiation Assessment Detector or RAD took detailed measurements of high energy particles that would bathe astronauts on a deep space mission.

    Radiation exposure on a trip to Mars or a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station has long been a concern to space scientists.

    Cary Zeitlin at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and colleagues analyzed the RAD data collected during a 253-day, 560-million-kilometer journey to Mars.  

    The heavily shielded instrument, similar to the protection of a space suit, recorded the amount of on-board radiation exposure that would be expected to hit humans traveling to Mars or other deep space destinations.  

    They found the amount of radiation exposure was a large fraction of what is considered an acceptable lifetime limit.

    “The concern is not so much any immediate effects on people, although those are possible, but long-term health effects like cancer or damage to the central nervous system,” Zeitlin said.

    Zeitlin made his comments in a podcast interview with the journal Science, which published the study.

    Humans would be exposed to two types of radiation on board the spacecraft; constant low-energy particles called Galactic Cosmic Rays, or GCRs, and solar particle radiation which fluctuates with sun spot activity.  The amount of accumulated radiation exposure for astronauts on a round-trip to Mars, according to Zeitlin, would be the equivalent of getting a whole-body CT scan every five to six days.

    It might be possible to beef up protective gear and improve the insulation of spacecraft to better protect astronauts against solar radiation.  But Zeitlin says constant exposure to cosmic rays poses a more difficult problem.

    “They can typically go through several inches of solid matter shielding without being attenuated (reduced) very much.  So astronauts in deep space will get a continuous low radiation dose,” Zeitlin said.

    Zeitlin and colleagues will continue to take radiation measurements as the Curiosity rover bumps along the Martian surface. Researchers want to get a complete picture of the radiation risks to humans who would spend time on the Red Planet, if and when a mission is undertaken.

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora