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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid