Shielding the Human Genome: Mitigating the Threat of Space Radiation

Ponder for a moment what we know space is capable of inflicting on the human body. Cancer, impaired vision or blindness, loss of cardiac function, muscle atrophy and decreased bone resiliency, diminished cognitive function and behavioural changes… The driver of these diseases and the genetic mutations that give rise to them? Space radiation. Especially galactic space radiation, given its energy and unique ability to cut through human DNA. It is this type of radiation that will be bombarding astronauts continuously from deep space as they make their way to Mars. Unfortunately for our astronauts, there is no engineering or technology solution available today that can sufficiently mitigate this threat.

For decades, NASA and others have studied the radiation problem and searched for solutions. Left unchecked, sustained exposure to space radiation will make long-duration manned missions beyond Earth’s ionosphere dangerous and, in some worst-case scenarios, lead to disease and death. It was this challenge that led NASA in 2016 to describe exposure to space radiation as the most dangerous aspect of travel to Mars.