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Astronauts Going to Mars at Serious Risk of Cancer Radiation: Study

Update Date: May 30, 2013 08:12 PM EDT

Are we ready to send astronauts to Mars? NASA says no after new research showed it would pose serious health risks to astronauts as they would be exposed to radiation levels that exceed current U.S. exposure limits during a roundtrip to space.

Since the time 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 astronauts would come into contact with. The study was published in the May 31 edition of the journal Science.

NASA limits astronauts' increased cancer risk to 3 percent, which translates to a cumulative radiation dose of between about 800 millisieverts and 1,200 millisieverts, depending on a person's age, gender and other factors. In comparison, when an astronaut lives at International Space Station for a period of six months, which flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, they are exposed to about 100 millisieverts.  

"In terms of accumulated dose, it's like getting a whole-body CT scan once every five or six days," said Cary Zeitlin, a principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio and lead author of the paper on the findings. "Understanding the radiation environment inside a spacecraft carrying humans to Mars or other deep space destinations is critical for planning future crewed missions."

The heavily protected instrument, similar to the protection of a space suit, was still unable to prevent on-board radiation exposure which would affect astronauts while travelling to the Red Planet in future missions. NASA said they measured the amount of radiation exposure was a large portion of what is considered an acceptable lifetime limit.

NASA is set to work on coming up with different material for its spacecraft in order to protect astronauts from the increased risk. There is increased interest in Mars with a non-profit called Mars One, planning to establish a settlement in Mars in 2023. So far, they have received over 80,000 applicants and will send up to 40 people to Mars after 10 years of training. The aim for the new settlement on Mars will be to establish a daily routine which involve construction work on the colony (installing greenhouses, for example), maintenance of the settlement's systems and research into Mars' climate and geological history.

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