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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid