Oct 5, 2017

There are too many unknown health risks to go to Mars soon

From our Expert Voices conversation on travel to Mars.

Projecting the health risks to astronauts from exposure to space radiation remains a largely unsolved problem, raising concerns about cancers, circulatory diseases, cataracts and changes to cognition and memory.

The potential harmful effects are qualitatively different from those of exposure to radiation on Earth, like X-rays, since space radiation involves heavy ions and secondary neutrons, which have been shown to induce distinct damage to cells and tissues. While space missions always carry risks, these threats to human health are still not well enough understood to be factored into current risk projection models.

One way to know: Because the current number of astronauts is small and past space missions have been relatively short, research using experimental models at particle accelerators, which can simulate space radiation, is likely our best method to make progress. We now have a solid understanding of shielding materials and space environments, but a sustained biomedical research program of 2000 beam hours per year over a decade, as advocated by the U.S. National Research Council, is still needed to understand the long-term effects of exposure.

The bottom line: Advancements in biophysics, cancer biology, and neuroscience are necessary not only to accurately predict health risks, but also to create biomedical countermeasures and sufficiently understand our genetic vulnerability to the unique types of radiation in space.

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A protest in Philadelphia on May 31. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

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A man waves a Black Lives Matter flag atop the CNN logo outside the CNN Center during a protest in response to the police killing of George Floyd, Atlanta, Georgia, May 29. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

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Driving the news: The violence got so bad over the weekend that on Sunday the Cleveland police said the media was not allowed downtown unless "they are inside their place of business" — drawing ire from news outlets around the country, who argued that such access is a critical part of adequately covering protests.

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The tanker after plowing into protesters on the shut-down bridge in Minneapolis on Sunday evening. Authorities said it appeared protesters escaped injury. Photo: Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images

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What they're saying: Minnesota Department of Public Safety tweeted, "Very disturbing actions by a truck driver on I-35W, inciting a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. The truck driver was injured & taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. He is under arrest. It doesn't appear any protesters were hit by the truck."