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Why We May Never Make It to Mars

Take a vacation on Mars in the future? Forget it: scientists tell us there is too much radiation, even if your spacecraft is shielded. Alas, we need to learn much more before we're ready to travel into space.

NASA has been discussing going to one of the moons of Mars and going to the planet itself from there. In New Scientist, David Shiga quotes planetary scientist Pascal Lee as saying, "I, for one, would go to Phobos or Deimos in a heartbeat, even without any hope of landing on Mars."

But his dreams may be thwarted by one major problem: Radiation from cosmic rays. These fast-moving particles (mostly photons, which are particles of light), bombard our solar system from all directions. We are protected from them by our planet's atmosphere, but in space, they can pass through human bodies and distort their DNA, leading to cancer. Ships and spacesuits may need to be heavily shielded.

But our astronauts are still game. Shiga quotes NASA's Steven Lindsey as saying, "It depends on the individual. I've got crew members that will fly on anything."

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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