Human missions to Mars ‘only safe if less than four years long’, crushing study finds

Human missions to Mars may only be safe if they are less than four years long, a new study has claimed.

The Red Planet has been touted by experts, including SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk, as having the potential to support human life in the future with China, the UAE and NASA sending exploratory unmanned missions to Mars already this year.

And a new study, titled “Beating 1 Sievert: Optimal Radiation Shielding of Astronauts on a Mission to Mars”, published in the journal Space Weather, researchers have claimed the limitations of heavy spacecraft and the time of launch could present technological difficulties for a human mission to Mars.

Missions to the Red Planet would have to be less than four years long, the study says

The boffin scientist team behind the research have said a manned mission lasting longer than four years would expose astronauts to a “dangerously high amount of radiation” during the trip, scientists have said in a statement.

Scientists from UCLA, MIT, Moscow’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology and GFZ Potsdam, say that if the 300 million mile mission were less than four years and happened when the sun is at its highest level of activity a mission to the Red Planet is “conceivable”.

The average flight to Mars takes about nine months, so depending on the timing of launch and available fuel, it is plausible that a human mission could reach the planet and return to Earth in less than two years, according to Yuri Shprits, a UCLA research geophysicist and co-author of the paper.

Human missions to Mars 'only safe if they're less than four years long', study finds
The team has revealed that astronauts could also be at risk from dangerous levels of radiation

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Humans should be able to safely travel to and from Mars, provided that the spacecraft has sufficient shielding and the round trip is shorter than approximately four years, the authors claim.

The team also determined that the best time for a flight to leave Earth would be when solar activity is at its peak, known as the solar maximum.

They say that the main danger to such a flight would be particles from outside of our solar system, known as galactic cosmic rays.

Human missions to Mars 'only safe if they're less than four years long', study finds
NASA has already drawn up what a manned mission to Mars could look like

The next solar maximum is forecast to peak around July 2025, according to NASA.

Professor Shprits and the research team combined geophysical models of particle radiation for a solar cycle with models for how radiation would affect both human passengers, including its varying effects on different bodily organs, and a spacecraft.

The modeling determined that having a spacecraft’s shell built out of a relatively thick material could help protect astronauts from radiation, but that if the shielding is too thick, it could actually increase the amount of secondary radiation to which they are exposed.

Professor Shprits said: “This study shows that while space radiation imposes strict limitations on how heavy the spacecraft can be and the time of launch, and it presents technological difficulties for human missions to Mars, such a mission is viable.”

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