Science News

Radiation on the way to Mars?

Thu, 30th May 2013

Dave Ansell

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Just one return trip to Mars would eat up about two-thirds of an astronaut's lifetime "safe" dose of radiation, a new study has shown.

Using the radiation detector mounted on the Curiosity rover that was sent to AstronautMars aboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) probe last year, Southwest research Institute scientist Cary Zeitlin, together with other NASA researchers, recorded how much cosmic and solar radiation the rover was exposed to as it made the 253 day, 560 million kilometre journey to its rendezvous with our red neighbour.

The average daily dose of radiation an astronaut would receive, the data reveal, is about 2 millisieverts, equivalent to a barium meal medical investigation on a daily basis.

Over the entire journey, this level of exposure would add up to about 660 millisieverts for the round trip; and even if the venture was one way, it would still be 330 millisieverts, which is a substantial chunk of an astronaut's safe career exposure limit of 1 sievert, which nonetheless carries a 3% cancer risk. As the time point out in their paper in Science, "It is clear that the exposure from the cruise phases alone is a large fraction of (and in some cases greater than) currently accepted astronaut career limits. Time spent on Mars might add considerably to the total dose..."



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33/66 rem (330/660 mSv) is quite a dose.  The normal "occupational limit" is normally 1 to 5 rem per year (10 to 50 mSv).  Of course, that is all without radiation shielding.  I believe there is significant effort to find better radiation shielding, or to design the ship so that various non-living compartments would also be oriented to provided substantial shielding.  Food, waste, water, etc.

How much does the dose vary with the 10 year solar cycles?  One could attempt the flights during solar minima.

If the goal was building a remote colony, with one-way volunteers, then the radiation dose of the transportation would be half that of a two-way round trip.  Living quarters on the planet would have to be designed to protect not only from the atmosphere, but also protecting from the solar and cosmic radiation.  Houses, of course could be excavated to be substantially subsurface, although greenhouses would still at least need to be exposed to incoming solar light, and undoubtedly some people would enjoy strolling around the greenhouses, and also driving in the rovers.

There appear to be some recent articles about diurnal radiation variation on Mars, but only abstracts seem to be available. CliffordK, Mon, 3rd Jun 2013

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