According to the estimate made by scientists, the risk of cancer doubles for longer term missions into deep space. This should make all future astronauts think twice about those long term missions.
Francis Cucinotta, a professor at the Department of Health Physics and Diagnostic Sciences and Eliedonna Cacao, a Ph.D. student at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, published a study last month that focuses on just that issue.
The study suggests that since the radiation in space is made up from particles of high energy which collide, they are able to tear through human DNA. This results in the disruption of life’s building blocks and increases chances of genetic mutations, which includes cancer.
Obviously, those particles are detrimental to human health and unfortunately, cannot be completely protected against with the method we currently have at ou disposal.
Future Mars missions will normally last 900 days or even more, which means that the body will be exposed to very heavy and long-term radiation from energies of galactic cosmic ray heavy ions. Our current protective shielding could only moderately help against the exposure, but it would not be enough.
According to the current research we have, the damaged cells signal those unaffected ones and change their microenvironment. This seems to inspire the mutation in healthy cells which cause cancers and tumors.
Life on Earth is protected by the magnetic field that surrounds it and deflects most of the particles. Otherwise, they would destroy the Earth’s atmosphere and make life on Earth practically impossible.
With space agencies further exploring the idea of sending people to long habitation on Mars, this is something that needs serious consideration.
Scientists have discovered possible volcanic activity on Mars, and also signs of water ice and oxygen in its past, which all indicate fruitful conditions for microbes and possibly even human in the far future. Obviously, the cancer possibilities from radiation are only one of the many reasons why space travel is not something to take lightly, however, it is unlikely that that will be something to stop the human race from continuing the march to space.