Using mice and models, scientists have concluded that humans who spend long periods in space, exposed to its radiation, will have a 3% higher risk for cancer.
A team led by researchers at Colorado State University and Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, which is part of the National Institutes for Health, used a novel approach to test assumptions in a model used by NASA to predict these health risks. Based on the NASA model, the team found that astronauts will have more than a three percent risk of dying of cancer from the radiation exposures they will receive on a Mars mission. That level of risk exceeds what is considered acceptable. [emphasis mine]
And how did they come to this conclusion?
…For the study, Weil and first author Dr. Elijah Edmondson, a veterinary pathologist and researcher based at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research in Maryland, used a unique stock of genetically diverse mice, mimicking a human population. Mice were divided into three groups with the first group receiving no radiation exposure and the other two receiving varying levels of exposure.
Edmondson, who conducted the research while completing a veterinary residency in pathology at CSU, said that for this type of research project, genetic variability is crucial. “Humans are very genetically diverse,” he explained. “You want to model that when it’s appropriate and feasible to do so.”
Weil said although the research team saw different tumor types, similar to humans, but the heavy ions did not cause any unique types of cancer. They also saw differences by sex. In humans, women are more susceptible to radiation-induced cancers than men; one of the main reasons is that women live longer, allowing sufficient time for cancer to develop. In assessing the cancer risk between male and female mice in the study, scientists said the findings parallel human data.
Edmondson said the study validates the NASA model to measure cancer risks for humans from space radiation.
In a sense, this study is junk. First, it discovers the obvious (radiation increases your chances of getting cancer). Second, it is too model-dependent, so assigning any precise percentage to that increase in humans is absurd, especially when based on a sample comprised of mice.
Third, and most important, it completely forgets the reality that life is risk, exploration is dangerous, and to do great things you need to take greater chances. That NASA concludes these questionable numbers are unacceptable means that NASA will never send humans anywhere beyond Earth orbit. Ever.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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