'Invisible' space radiation could hold back manned mission to Mars

NASA researchers hope to find ways to protect astronauts against deadly space radiation, which could be a big setback to future deep space travel.
By Joseph Scalise | Sep 27, 2017
Though there are many difficulties with sending a team of astronauts to Mars, NASA scientists report space radiation could be one of the biggest.

While researchers know a lot of about how Earth radiation affects the human body, little is known about the radiation out in space. That means certain preventative measures on our planet would not be as effective on other worlds.

For example, while lead blankets help protect against X-rays, such measures could make exposure to space rays worse. That isbecause space is home to particle, rather than electromagnetic, radiation. As a result, if the current materials are used on deep space missions it could make exposure worse for astronauts.

To overcome that, researchers at NASA are working to see the different ways space radiation affects the human body. They hope they can then use such information to protect against deadly foreign substances.

"One of our biggest challenges on a mission to Mars is protecting astronauts from radiation," said Lisa Simonsen, a NASA Space Radiation Element Scientist, according to Daily Mail UK. "You can't see it; you can't feel it. You don't know you're getting bombarded by radiation."

There are currently three types of space radiation, but the ones associated with galactic cosmic rays are the most concerning. Such radiation -- which originates in supernovae beyond our solar system -- is the most harmful to the human body. NASA hopes their new research will give them a way to effectively block out those harmful particles.

However, even conducting studies on the substance is not an easy task. It is difficult to simulate space radiation on Earth, as the doses in space would be more concentrated than anything scientists can create. Even so, understanding how the body reacts to such radiation is important and could be a big step in setting up future space travel.

"We have a long history and a decent amount of data about the biological consequences of exposure to terrestrial radiation," added Tony Slaba, a research physicist at NASA. "Where we lack data and have a large amount of uncertainty is the biological consequences of space radiation."

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