Humans Face Another Dangerous Hurdle In Traveling To Mars – Frightening Risk Of Cancer

By 06.20.17
The Martian

20th Century Fox

Are you tired of living on Earth and plan on being one of the first human beings to live on Mars? Well, not so fast, because besides eating potatoes for every meal, there’s another extremely scary and dangerous issue with living on Mars – you’ll probably die from cancer. New research has discovered that Mars has even more deadly levels of radiation than scientists first believed. There are hazardous levels of high-energy space radiation on Mars that could double astronauts’ risk of getting cancer.

Scientists know that cosmic rays can damage DNA, but a new study found that they underestimated the threat level of cancer. Earth’s magnetic field traps most harmful space radiation, but there is no such protection in deep space and on Mars. Astronauts who dare to journey into space will encounter cosmic radiation. The kinds of radiation that they will deal with is solar energetic particles and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). Thanks to shielding, humans are relatively safe from solar energetic particles, but as New Atlas reports, GCRs are deadly:

GCRs, which are highly energetic particles caused by high-energy events outside the solar system, such as supernova explosions, are a greater hazard because they are not easily stopped by a regular spacecraft’s shielding, unlike solar energy particles. GCRs also comprise a small percentage of heavy ions, which can penetrate thick layers of shielding and body tissue, causing irreparable damage to cells and DNA.

A few years ago, scientists decided to document the amount of radiation that NASA’s Curiosity spacecraft was subjected to on its 220-day outbound journey to Mars. According to the data that they got from the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), the first Mars cruise mission instrument to measure the radiation environment from inside a vessel similar to potential human exploration spacecraft, Curiosity received about 1.8 millisieverts of GCR per day on its journey to the planet. For reference purposes, the normal daily radiation dose we receive on Earth is 10 microsieverts (0.00001 sievert or SV). Accumulated over time, a dose of 1 SV corresponds with a 5.5 percent increase in the risk of fatal cancers.

A study on mice found that once the DNA is damaged it does not keep to itself. The damaged DNA causes other healthy cells to mutate and it spreads throughout the body. Based on the amount of deadly space radiation that a human would encounter on Mars, scientists claim that the risk of cancer is twice as high as previously believed. Even if you had radiation shielding it only moderately reduces the risk.

“Exploring Mars will require missions of 900 days or longer and includes more than one year in deep space where exposures to all energies of galactic cosmic ray heavy ions are unavoidable,” says radiation expert Francis Cucinotta from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Current levels of radiation shielding would, at best, modestly decrease the exposure risks.”

There are plans for humans to travel to Mars by 2030, but until we are able to solve that major radiation problem we may need to shelve the voyage as well as out badass Mars rover.


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