The risk of cancer doubles for long-term missions outside our planet’s magnetic field. This is something astronauts on the way to the first human mission to Mars may want to consider.

The findings from Professor Francis Cucinotta and Ph.D. student Eliedonna Cacao of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas shed light on the health effects of galactic cosmic ray exposure to Mars conquerors, from cancer and cataracts to circulatory diseases and acute radiation syndromes.

Study Findings

Cosmic rays are well-documented to damage the cells heavily because of their very high ionization rates. These high-energy particles that stream from the sun and extragalactic sources tear through one’s nucleotides, disrupt DNA, and up the chances of genetic mutations.

They are detrimental to human health, and current protective techniques are not enough to completely prevent them, the researchers warned.

“Exploring Mars will require missions of 900 days or longer,” said Cucinotta in a statement. “[It] includes more than one year in deep space where exposures to all energies of galactic cosmic ray heavy ions are unavoidable.”

Current radiation shielding levels, he added, only modestly reduce risks of exposure.

In the research published in the journal Scientific Reports, cancer risk climbs in cells close to heavily damaged cells, and it led to twice or higher increase in cancer incidence compared with conventional models for a Mars mission.

Cucinotta noted that the cells’ nuclei pay a dear price for this cosmic ray exposure. Affected cells signal to surrounding unaffected cells and likely alter the tissue environment. The signals appear to inspire healthy cells’ mutation, therefore resulting in an additional tumor or cancer.

The team encouraged added studies on these radiation exposures well before long-term space missions begin.

Human Risks Of Mars Exploration

Earth is shielded by a magnetic field that deflects most of the harmful particles, which would otherwise strip away the molecules in its atmosphere. A journey to the Red Planet, however, entails a number of risks that go beyond radiation.

There’s the planet’s dust and carbon dioxide atmosphere. Mars is bathing in toxic, finely grained, and abrasive dust, which proves to be bad news for human lungs. Its atmosphere is 95 percent CO2, compared with Earth’s 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, with trace amounts of other gases and water vapor.

The Martian landscape also comes with deadly low temperatures. Its equatorial temperature, for instance, can get up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, while night temperatures can plunge to a deadly 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If not warmed properly, human explorers can die within hours.

NASA revealed its plan to send astronauts to the planet in the 2030s via its two-phase strategy: building the Deep Space Gateway orbiting the moon, and conducting a Mars verification project before the actual journey.

Recently, scientists concluded from evidence in Mars’s ancient lake on Gale crater that the planet once harbored a very Earth-like environment for about 700,000 years sometime between 3.1 and 3.8 billion years ago. This strengthens the case for a previous Martian life, long speculated by researchers.

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