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

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora