Space radiation is one of the biggest challenges for the human journey to Mars. NASA is developing technologies to stop the problem.
Space radiation is quite different and more dangerous than radiation on Earth, NASA said.
ISS, for example, orbits just within the Earth’s protective magnetic field. However, astronauts receive over ten times the radiation than what is naturally occurring on Earth.
“Some people think that radiation will keep NASA from sending people to Mars, but that’s not the current situation,” said Pat Troutman, NASA Human Exploration Strategic Analysis Lead.
“When we add the various mitigation techniques up, we are optimistic it will lead to a successful Mars mission with a healthy crew that will live a very long and productive life after they return to Earth,” Troutman continued.
NASA is planning to send Humans to Mars around the 2030s.
The magnetic field is what protects us, but outside the field, it gets really dangerous. There you can find galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), solar particle events (SPEs) and the Van Allen Belts, which contain trapped space radiation.
NASA is able to protect the crew from SPEs. Thus, advising them to shelter in an area with additional shielding materials.
However, GCRs are a bigger problem to handle. These particles are highly energetic and they come from all over the galaxy. They can tear right through metals, plastic, water and cellular material.
“One of the most challenging parts of the human journey to Mars is the risk of radiation exposure and the in-flight and long-term health consequences of the exposure,” said Lisa Simonsen, NASA Space Radiation Element Scientist.
“This ionizing radiation travels through living tissues, depositing energy that causes structural damage to DNA and alters many cellular processes,” said Simonsen.
What is NASA doing to handle these problems?
So, NASA is currently working on new ideas and concepts to protect humans from GCRs. These concepts include shieldings for transport vehicles, habitats and space suits with state of the art models.
These preparations take place inside the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL). So, the NSRL helps to access many of the health risks associated with cosmic radiation.
NASA mentioned that scientists are investigating pharmaceutical countermeasures. They might be more effective than shielding to protect crews from GCRs.
Engineers are developing enhanced space weather forecasting tools. They are also studying faster rockets to reduce the time spent in space and exposure to radiation.
“Mars is the best option we have right now for expanding long-term, human presence,” said Troutman. “We have already found valuable resources for sustaining humans, such as water ice just below the surface and past geological and climate evidence that Mars at one time had conditions suitable for life.”
Troutman continued, “what we learn about Mars will tell us more about Earth’s past and future and may help answer whether life exists beyond our planet.”