Space travel is scary, a lot more scary that roaming in an unknown rainforest. The dangers are infinite, and there are very few ways to escape them. While some of us are planning to colonize Mars, it is not nearly as simple as we thought. Researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has determined that the models which estimate the risk of cancer posed to the astronauts traveling to Mars are incomplete.
The study published in Scientific Reports shows that Mars astronauts face a much higher risk of cancer than was estimated by the previous models. Previous studies by NASA and other groups suggested that radiation-based cancer caused by the cosmic rays occurs only due to the direct cell damage and mutations. These models, however, did not take into account that the risk posed by “bystander” cells. These cells have a knock-on effect that we have no protection from.
Wearing a thicker spacesuit is simply not the solution to the cosmic ray exposure the astronauts will be facing. The existing shielding of the spacesuits can only decrease the radiation threat partially, which is not enough when the astronauts spend hundreds of days in base camps on the red planet. Better protection is required to face the radiation outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, and the existing equipment can only resist very mild levels of it.
Space and medical community will spend more time assessing the dangers of space travel and develop suitable equipment so the manned Mars missions may not happen as soon as were anticipated. The problem poses serious ethical concerns with sending people to the red planet through the unknown dangers of the travels.
Humans wish to become multi-planetary species, but would you want to risk the lives of your astronauts knowing their lives could end as a result of any unexpected event? If this is taken into serious consideration, the manned Mars missions planned for a time as soon as 2018, may be pushed much farther.