A recent article in USA Today described the ill effects of extreme radiation exposure in the event that humans travel to Mars. The article states that “…astronauts would likely receive a significant fraction, about 15% to 20%, of their lifetime allowable radiation dose on a round-trip to Mars,” a trip that is estimated to be about 6 months. The research and planning going into potential travel to Mars comes from President Obama’s space exploration plan, which he revealed in 2010. The plan also calls for possible travel to a nearby asteroid, and both of these plans are being spearheaded by NASA and private teams.
Much of the research into the side effects of travel to Mars comes from the information received by NASA’s Curiosity rover, which recorded five solar storms that greatly increased the amount of radiation in space. If astronauts are walking on Mars during one of these storms, they would have very little protection from the radiation (Vergano, 2013).
As much as I love learning about the explorations of science and astronomy (I’ve seen the IMAX film Hubble and the planetarium film Life both twice at OMSI, and the movie Contact is one of my all-time favorites), I can’t look past how problematic it can be. One of the quotes from the article sums up their solution to the problem of high radiation exposure: “The best thing to do is to get there faster." This was stated by Cary Zeitlin of the Southwest Research Institute. Is that really a solution?
Humans have such a deep thirst for exploration and knowledge, often transporting us to far off frontiers, yet our public education system (the main vehicle for distribution of knowledge and information) is falling apart at the seams in the United States (and in much of the world). When it comes to space travel aimed at unraveling the mysteries of the universe, we’ll spend billions of dollars, use up tons of precious energy and limited resources, produce an exorbitant amount of carbon emissions and pollution, risk deadly exposure and litter the universe with massive machines that may or may not come back to Earth.
What do we do? I don’t know anyone that isn’t fascinated by cosmic revelations, but at what cost do these revelations come? The “Skilled Veterans Corp” in Japan was a group of retirees age 60 and up who volunteered to deal with the crisis at Fukushima after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in order to make sure that others didn’t have to submit to radiation exposure in order to stabilize the plant (Lah, 2011). They risked their own quality and quantity of life to save others from radiation exposure, yet now, it seems the exposure that we’ll receive traveling to Mars can’t come soon enough! As potential planners, we are dedicated to helping people focus their travel more locally and choosing more ecological transportation options. So why is space travel exempt from this?
Thanks to Yunemi Jang for some astronomical editing!
Picture #1: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3628/3518379677_1f9fd22e8d_z.jpg?zz=1
Picture #2: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ksr/projects/470489/photo-main.jpg?1362188018
Vergano, Dan. “Study maps radiation hazards of Mars trip.” USA Today. May 30, 2013. Web.
Lah, Kyung. “Japanese seniors volunteer for Fukushima ‘suicide corps’.” CNN. June 1, 2011. Web.