People have been talking about terraforming and colonizing Mars since the beginning of space travel, and in the past few years that ambition seems to have gone mainstream. But if we want to conquer the “final frontier” of space, we must first confront that other final frontier.
Because, as it turns out, the problem with space isn’t just that no one can hear you scream. The real problems are much more mundane, and will be especially familiar to people of a certain age: muscles and bones wasting away, a poorly functioning immune system, the looming specter of cancer. Right now astronauts deal with the problems of microgravity with special exercise regimens, but they have little in the way of protection against galactic cosmic rays, an especially dangerous source of radiation. In fact, just one leg of the trip to Mars would expose astronauts to more than half the radiation they’re allowed for their entire career.
Spacecraft currently aren’t equipped to handle this risk for their passengers–our shielding technology just isn’t good enough to deter the high energy particles found in cosmic rays very well, and it’s not clear when it will be. Instead, we may have to take a
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