Radiation Could Delay Human Mars Landing, Sun Cycles To Blame

The United States and China would really like to land human beings on Mars, unfortunately plans to begin that flight in 2025 and land in 2035 might be delayed due to an increased chance of radiation poisoning.

The issue is that during space travel Astronauts in deep space are affected by varying levels of Sun radiation. That radiation is based on predictable levels which are expected to be higher than normal from 2020 through 2040. Long time exposure to those rays in effect could cause radiation poisoning leading to death. Unless NASA can develop better radiation shields, the flares could cause problems while in flight and during Mars exploration.

io9 reports from NASA scientist John Norbury:

We already know about the Schwabe cycle, which shows sunspot activity reaches its peak, known as the solar maximum, every 11 years. When this occurs, there’s a big increase in solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which together spread deadly radiation throughout the solar system. The last solar maximum was reached in 2002, so we’re headed for more in 2013, 2024, and 2035. Those last two dates are worrying, considering the current “2025 out of orbit/2035 to Mars” plans of the United States.

While those numbers are not to far out of line with NASA’s plan, the Gleissberg cycle could also come into play which creates even higher radiation spike every 80 to 90 year period, which could delay the project for even longer, making flights even just outside Earth’s orbit dangerous. The problem with the Gleissberg cycle is that we can’t time it as predictably as the Schwabe cycle since we don’t know when the last ones officially occurred.

If scientists are correct and the last maximums were 1790, 1870 and 1950 that would mean another approach around 2030, which could push the danger zone up to around 2040.

So what could happen if that cycle occurs, io9 report from Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell:

“The worse-case scenario is that if you radiate a crew sufficiently, they’d all succumb to radiation sickness within a few days and essentially vomit and diarrhoea themselves to death within an enclosed capsule.”

Of course NASA could design better radiation shielding technology, but they also still must develop all the technology needed to land on Mars safely with human’s on board and that in itself could take more than the next two decades.

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