Mars, Your Next Station?

Mars round trip fraught with radiation perils Martian travelers could be doused with lifetime allowance


145960main_positron_ablation-580x415Is Mars your next station? This is a vision that soon may become a reality. Scientists are working on making this trip as safe as possible.

A Mars round trip is fraught with radiation perils, according to scientists who envision sending astronauts and other Martian buffs to the Red Planet.

A research study published in the Journal of Science speaks of the countless obstacles facing a human mission to Mars, one of the hardest to overcome is the radiation factor. Radiation saturates  interplanetary space. Scientists say new data gathered by the Curiosity Rover has confirmed that interplanetary space is hostile to humans. According to scientists, Martian round trip travelers could be doused with radiation that would exceed a lifetime’s allowance.

“The radiation environment in deep space is several hundred times more intense than it is on Earth, and that’s even inside a shielded spacecraft,” said Cary Zeitlin, Principal Scientist at the Space and Engineering Division at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and the lead author on the new findings.

“The radiation exposure on a trip to Mars would — barring a super-huge solar event — not be lethal. The concerns are mostly about cancer induction (a so-called ‘late effect’) and damage to the central nervous system,” Zeitlin said.

NASA scientists state that since a manned mission to Mars would launch when the planets Earth and Mars are closer together, they estimate that a one-way trip would take 180 days. According to the new Radiation Assessment Detector measurements, astronauts would be exposed to some 330 mSv each way. A number of space agencies have set a limit of 1,000 mSv, or 1 sievert (Sv), as the amount of radiation a person can absorb in a lifetime without an unacceptable increase in the risk to their health.

The accumulated dose would be comparable to getting a whole-body CT scan once every five or six days for the entirety of the trip, according to Zeitlin.

These new findings do not mean a round trip to Mars is impossible. According to scientists, what the new data suggests is that engineers must find ways to speed up travel in order to lessen radiation exposure.

Using the current chemical rocket technology and the available launch options, a manned trip to Mars would take roughly six months, according to the study.

However, in a speeded route envisaged by scientists, the same journey to Mars would expose to the astronauts to acceptable levels of radiation.

Another solution scientists have suggested is to ignore the risk of radiation exposure. Space agencies could decide, for example, that a Mars mission is important enough to justify the waiving of the radiation exposure limit.

A one way trip to Mars is another option that scientists in various studies have suggested. Evidence of water, moderate gravity, and a range of essential minerals make the Red Planet an attractive target for human colonization and a permanent station in a one way trip to Mars. In this scenario, travelers would be deposited at a station on Mars to reside on the planet permanently.

“We envision that Mars exploration would begin and proceed for a long time on the basis of outbound journeys only,” Schulze-Makuch,, an associate professor in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Washington State University in Pullman, said recently.

“One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two spacecraft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to create a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would be the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet.”

Aside from radiation perils, studies have also talked about other hazards facing a human mission to Mars. The interplanetary route, according to studies, is loaded with deadly meteoroids, charged particles, some flung from the sun in solar flares. Scientists are developing new ways to insulate astronauts. They are using new meteoroid-proof materials to shield them.

Mars, your next station may become a reality in the not so distant future.

Perviz Walji

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