back to article Flying to Mars will be so rad, dude: Year-long trip may dump 60% lifetime dose of radiation on you

A year-long round trip to Mars could give you more than half the maximum radiation dose recommended for an astronaut's entire career, according to data collected by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The spacecraft, weighing in at over 4,000 kilograms (8,801lb), was launched by the European Space Agency and its Russian counterpart …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brave new world

    Breed genetically agreeable babies in underground, lead-lined, bunkers.

    - Confined spaces

    - Lack of sun light

    - Limited radiation exposure.

    Only let them out for missions.

    Return the astronauts to the bunkers when not in use.

    Max' lifetime exposure for a single trip career: Just over 60%

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Brave new world

      And I thought your comment was going to be about subterranean video gamers.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All aboard

    Elon Musk's B-Ark.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: All aboard

      He doesn't have a b-Ark. I think a lot of IT workers would be on it if he did.

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    Just send wrinklies

    When we do radiation dose an "average" person is 30 years old, anybody 30-50 counts as 0.5x dose 50-70 is 0.3x and anybody over 75 doesn't matter. But for people 20-30 the dose is 1.5x

    Basically older people have less time to develop cancer before something else gets them so we don't worry as much

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: Anti-ageism

      You could be on to something there. Certain old people not merely put up with but pay vast amounts of money to be confined for long periods in a small space. Could Mars be, for the pioneers, a more exclusive cruise destination?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Anti-ageism

        RE: "Could Mars be, for the pioneers, a more exclusive cruise destination?"

        Just send 'em anyway.... start with the very rich.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Anti-ageism

          No. start with our Elected Representatives (and the Unelected ones as well),

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Anti-ageism

          > start with the very rich.

          Start with the politicians.

          1. ITS Retired

            Re: Anti-ageism

            "> start with the very rich.

            Start with the politicians."

            Often the same people.

        3. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: Anti-ageism

          "Just send 'em anyway.... start with the very rich."

          Shouldn't you be in school?

      2. hplasm Silver badge

        Re: Anti-ageism

        "Two Weeks!!"

      3. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Anti-ageism

        Could Mars be, for the pioneers, a more exclusive cruise destination?

        Yes, I'm sure they'd enjoy their drinks from the Mars bar

    2. AlgernonFlowers4

      Re: Anti-ageism

      Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Send the wrinklies

      Can you make sure that El Trumpo is on the first flight?

      I'm sure he'd like to go down in history as being the first person to play golf on Mars.

      Just make sure he never returns.

    4. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Anti-ageism

      Just send wrinklies

      Where's grandad? Well, he had a choice of boring himself to death in a care home, or jumping on the latest Mars mission and adding a few more bricks to the wall out there before taking the long walk.

      One way missions would surely reduce the costs, and I can't imagine there would be any shortage of volunteers.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

    In about 30 hours.

    This suggests you need to do two things.

    Make the trip as fast as possible.

    Bury yourself under about 3m of regolith when you get there.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

      I'd task rovers or Mars-specific drones to find caves, do a bit of LIDAR to establish depth of said cave. Long term, dig in of course. Meteorites are a consideration, not just solar flares et al

      On a personal note, I've already had more than ten times the lifetime dose of a radiation worker and have the prosthetic lenses to prove it. I'm 58 right now, cataracts at age 30. I'm not sure about the cognitive effects, after all hang around with this crowd {smile}, I just can't see additional doses making that much of a difference. Wouldn't even have to train me on the engineering side.

      Even if it's a one-way trip.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

        I'd task rovers or Mars-specific drones to find caves

        No need, there are deep canyons that dwarf the Grand one in the USA, setting up camp at the bottom of those would limit radiation to just when the sun was directly above, solar panels and reflectors on the surface could provide power and redirect light.

        Eventually sections could be roofed over and sealed to provide a reasonable working environment.

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

        @Jack of Shadows [A neat name given the mention of cataracts.]

        On a personal note, I've already had more than ten times the lifetime dose of a radiation worker and have the prosthetic lenses to prove it.

        If you don't mind me asking, how did that happen?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

          It happened as a result of working, hell practically living, with high power electronics for seven years. All that gear had magnetrons or klystrons and were known as X-ray sources. Good thing I never married nor tried to have kids.

          FWIW, my mother worked on the same things*, including one piece of gear dating back to the '50's. She never reached my level of exposure, got cataracts later in life. It's not like we** don't know about it, more like we just don't care all that much in my family.

          *- That might explain some genetic oddities in my case. Might not just as well.

          **- All of us, even sis, have served in the military. That tradition goes way back both sides of my family tree.

      3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

        Even if it's a one-way trip.

        That's probably the sensible approach. It would limit the radiation exposure due to the return leg, and also the cost and resources. Then it'd be the challenges of limiting radiation exposure whilst on Mars due to it's thin atmosphere and magnetic field.

        Downside would be creating a Mars base that can house colonists long term, but that's possible by launching resources and supplies ahead of the people. Kim Stanley Robinson suggests that in the Mars trilogy. It would also probably be simplified by creating a lunar base first, and using my favourite lunarcrete to create concrete/ceramic Mars ships/shuttles and potentially fab lunacrete sections to send to Mars for base building. That seems to be the kind of thing that might be automated, ie robo dozers to feed tile production machines.

        But if the Mars vehicles could be made from concrete/cermics fabricated off-Earth, it would reduce the cost of launching mass from Earth, and allow for more shielding. I've often wondered how practical it would be to have Lunar solar foundries vitrifying lunar dust & rock to make tiles. And presumably there'd be radiation problems given that dust's been irradiated by exposure. Sounds like the kind of project Musk's Boring company could be applied to though.

        Then it'd 'just' need bold colonists prepared to make a mostly 1-way trip. Future fame and glory awaits in the off-world colonies..

      4. hplasm Silver badge

        Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

        "drones to find caves, do a bit of LIDAR to establish depth of said cave...."

        Find abandoned alien craft/slime/weird tentacle monster. Escape barely with life and be sold down the river by deranged Android. Die in horrible circumstances.

        Yep -sounds about right.

        oh - Avoid sequels...

      5. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        I've already had more than ten times the lifetime dose of a radiation worker

        But you'll pick about 1 years worth every 30 hours, given the shielding level of any kind of lander (about 0.5% of the Earths atmoshpere at sea level).

        People need to dig in on Mars, and fast if they are planning to settle there.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

      the radiation problem is easier to solve than that.

      Keep in mind that your average space ship requires FUEL for deceleration once it arrives. Put the fuel, tanks, engine, etc. between you and Mr. Sun and you get excellent radiation shielding! This assumes that the ship CAN be oriented "this way" for most of the trip.

      Additionally you'd probably want some kind of artificial gravity in the people-sphere, so the design would have to accommodate 'all of that' while also keeping a large amount of mass [and hydrogen, for neutron moderation] between you and the sun.

      /me would go to Mars as long as it's the "wild west" there, not some politically correct "utopia"

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: And given the shielding level of and lander you'll get the radiation workers annual dose

        The prospects raise a bunch of interesting moral, ethical and legal questions. So assuming a round-trip and a high radiation dose, it's potentially a one-way trip for the astronauts selected. So if the trip means they exceed their lifetime dose, it's effectively career ending. On the plus side, there'd be new career opportunities, book & speaking deals. But they'd also be guinea pigs and basically sent on a round trip to see if or how they survive it.

        Which is kind of unethical, even though it's what test pilots and astronauts do. They sign up for inherently risky activities so humanity can progress.

        But that's also potentially a wasted opportunity. Instruments can gather data to assess what may happen, and a round trip would expend a lot of money & effort just so we could say 'We've landed on Mars!'. Which may then end up a bit like the Moon trips, and ignored for the next few decades instead of being pathfinders for manned lunar bases.

        Setting up a Mars colony mission as a one-way trip raises more issues though, ie we'd be sending people to die on Mars. Even if that's after a natural-ish lifespand. I'm curious now how our ancestors handled these issues around the pilgrim fathers, although in their case, the colony target was easier to reach and better understood.. Which didn't stop those colonies almost collapsing due to some.. challenges with socialism vs capitalist ideals.

  5. TRT Silver badge

    Quite literally...

    a once in a lifetime trip.

  6. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Artificial magnetosphere

    Some very early research has been done - of the single researcher with optimistic claims that the tech could scaled down enough to be used in a spacecraft.

    1. fedoraman

      Re: Artificial magnetosphere

      "of the single researcher with optimistic claims"

      Hah! If I had a cold fusion reactor for every one of those I've heard of, I'd be laughing!

      1. hplasm Silver badge

        Re: Artificial magnetosphere

        "Hah! If I had a cold fusion reactor for every one of those I've heard of, I'd be laughing my 3 heads off and glowing!"


    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Artificial magnetosphere

      All we need is a Blue Peter type appeal for children to send in enough fridge magnets...

  7. DrXym Silver badge

    Career != Lifetime

    Headline says one thing, article says another.

    However I expect for astronauts in space the "recommended" max dose is not reflective of the max dose that people on earth. Even people like flight crew probably wouldn't get anywhere close to it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Career != Lifetime

      On the average space shuttle mission, astronauts could figure on receiving 25,000 mrem (25 rem), which is better measure of dosage, btw. The maximum dose allowed by NRC amounts to 3,000 mrem (3 rem) per quarter, 5,000 mrem (5 rem) per year. Nobody in a normal line of work would even come close to these levels.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Career != Lifetime

        rem is not a better measure of dosage, its pretty much exactly the same (100 rem = 1 Sievert)

        It could also be argued the NRC dose limits are ridiculously low. There's several places on earth with thriving populations (without increased cancer incidence) where the natural background radiation levels are well above 100 mSv per annum and in some places even close to 250 mSv per annum. Some data even suggests a slight positive effect to low level radiation exposure.

        A trip to mars certainly wouldn't be low leven, but without an actual number it's hard to say anything about it (60% more than... is non-sensical and doesn't mean anything. I didn't even find a basis for it in a quick skim of the article).

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Career != Lifetime

      Radiation doses are a lot more complicated than a single number. Not only are there the various different types of radiation (alpha/beta/gamma etc. and that's ignoring things like high energy neutrons), but where on the body you're irradiated makes a big difference to the outcome. Of course, timespan also plays a part; a single high dose in one day could be less than your monthly/annual limit, but will likely be medically worse for you than someone who gets a constant low dose which sums up to be higher per month.

      Hence, dosage limits are an estimation of risk, based on an aggregate of all the different radiation studies that have been done. They're deliberately simplified to a single number to make the regulations feasible. The end result is that the medical issues of (for example) an aircrew who'd reached their monthly dose and a worker in a nuclear plant who'd received the exact 'same' dose would be quite different Because they'd both likely have received different types of radiation, in different ways, over different timespans.

      tl/dr radiation dose numbers are approximate and can't necessarily be directly compared between different jobs/situations.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Career != Lifetime

        The biggest effect (at low doses) is the individual.

        There are a bunch of genetic conditions that limit your ability to repair DNA, most of these aren't detected - you are just much more likely to get breast/skin cancer later.

        There is a good clinical argument for doing individual DNA screening and banning these people from eg. airline crew or x-ray technician jobs - I just can't see this getting past the ethics committee.

      2. DCFusor Silver badge

        Re: Career != Lifetime

        phuzz is correct, as I know from personal experience.

        Due to a fusion reactor test that went "too well" despite being a nearly dry run at the smallest scale the lab could manage, I got some tens (maybe even 50-100) of milliSieverts in perhaps 20 seconds.

        Mostly high energy neutrons but also plenty of low energy gammas from the power source, and some high energy ones from neutron capture events.

        I was very sick for a few weeks, and maybe anecdotal, but have had to have two cancers cut out of me in a couple of years since. I'd not recommend the experience even to an enemy (if I had any).

        The space dose intensity is far less than what I god, but it's no joke. A few dead cells here and there, the body tosses them out with the other garbage. A significant number, all sorts of nasty things happen including auto-immune response to the dead cells...weeks of puking and passing out the other end ain't fun at all. Honest.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Career != Lifetime

          Very true, I wasn't claiming more sieverts is never a problem, doserate is very important for determining the effect. It's fine if you receive 100 mSv spread out over a year. Doing that in a few seconds is not going to end well.

  8. Nosher

    I can only imagine where we'd all be if the Polynesians first spreading out over the Pacific, the peoples first colonising the Americas, the Vikings, or the early European explorers had been so recklessly timid and afraid of nebulous risks as we as a species are now. Does it matter if you were to receive 60% of your lifetime's radiation? No, it doesn't - because you'd be the first person on Mars.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Neo-colonialism? Surely the martians were already there?

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      You describe the risk as nebulous but then state it with accuracy, and then go on to say the risk for everyone wouldn't matter because it'd be worth it for one person. Excuse me if I'm not convinced that there are no obstacles to be overcome.

      1. Nosher

        60% is nebulous as no-one actually knows - it's more-or-less a number plucked out of the air (the assumption being that once you've reached 100% you're immediately going to die?). And, although I could have chosen to say "you'd still be the first people on Mars" it doesn't change the fact that yes - it would be worth the risk on "everyone" - to get even one person onto the surface of another planet, because of how that might change the whole of humanity's outlook - even if it's only temporary - and get people looking up and outwards instead of down and inwards for a change.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


          It's not 60% of the radiation that would kill astronauts. It's 60% of the number that we've picked as a lifetime dose.

          Which by the way we know is dangerous, but it's a figure that we hope will only cause minor problems like cataracts and joint problems - and hopefully not cancers. With a total astronaut population so small, I'd imagine it's impossible to get any data with decent confidence of avoiding statistical problems.

          So no, you're actually wrong. This is proper risk assessment, as anyone not totally reckless with other peoples' lives should do.

          The nuclear industry doses are ludicrously low, and there's a good argument to say that if we'd increased the tolerances for nuclear safety just a little bit, we could have made it a lot cheaper and thus saved thousands of lives compared with those we lost mining and burning coal.

          But in this case, we can't have astronauts if we try to enforce those kinds of doses, we don't have the technology to get that kind of shielding into orbit - well apart from Project Orion, which has its own radiation issues... So we've gone with a best-guess of what will be relatively safe long-term, but still exposes the astronauts to higher risks than we'd like - but they're willing to live with that.

          There's a lot of namby-pamby silliness with health-and-safety. But on the other hand there's a lot of cavalier bollocks that means we kill people we don't need to, because we're not willing to take the time to think about minimising risks. Some of them really easy to minimise too. The construction industry being a good example - where numbers of deaths have plummeted. Take the London Olympics, which were the first to set themselves the goal of building all the venues without any workers dying.

          Also if you don't measure the risk, you don't know if you can do something. Until we'd done this calculation we didn't even know if it was possible for the crew to survive even a one-way trip to Mars. To do it without checking that would be stupidly reckless.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge

            "The nuclear industry doses are ludicrously low"

            Uh, no. The 'low' limits are intended to prevent your life expectancy from being significantly reduced due to a known occupational hazard. It's about safety.

            I don't think radiation limits are the problem, here. The problem in the nuclear industry is an UNINFORMED PUBLIC being manipulated by a HANDFUL OF ACTIVISTS, whose agenda may or may not have anything to do with nuclear power in and of itself. THAT is what is so "expensive" about nuclear power.

            Take the San Onofre nuclear power plant out in California for an example. After doing a refit on both working reactors [new boilers], that was approved by the various agencies, they discovered a design flaw caused by vibration, causing tube leakage [radioactive primary coolant getting into the steam]. Rather than shut down both plants and do an expensive refit, they wanted to run one at reduced power while fixing the other one, to stay marginally profitable. Regulators (during Obaka administration) said *NO*. So what did they do? They SHUT DOWN BOTH PLANTS and LAID OFF HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE. Now it's just sitting there as a place to store nuclear waste. And ELECTRICITY RATE PAYERS are footing THE BILL!

            Looks like the "no nukes" crowd WON on that one. wheee...

            It's not the radiation dose limits being too low. It's the POLITICS and the LAWSUITS and the LEGAL OBSTRUCTION by "special interests" who, for whatever is their motivation, don't like nuclear power.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              That would be a reasonable arguement if you hadn't put in Obaka

              But since we can now only picture you as an obese southern ignorant Boss-Hog character living in your parents basement and masturbating to your portrait of Der Furherer your point is somewhat diminished.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                When I am king, nuclear power plants will be exempt by law from all planning objections except from people who would be directly impacted in their own enjoyment of their own property, eg it's so close they'd be within the security perimeter. Those who protest would have no right to receive fixed-line electricity.

                Nuclear is by far the safest and greenest option, for the amount of energy liberated.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      re: vikings

      Vikings, or the early European explorers had been so recklessly timid and afraid

      I think that explains the difference between modern Sweden and say Scotland/Ireland/NE England.

      All the vikings who through that the longship lacked proper life saving equipment and that the sea looked a bit cold and wet - stayed behind and their descendants built Volvos.

      The ones who were too dumb to realise how dangerous it was went out raping and pillaging - and their descendants are still raping and pillaging in the Bigg market in a T-shirt in the snow today

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: re: vikings

        The ones who were too dumb to realise how dangerous it was went out raping and pillaging - and their descendants are still raping and pillaging in the Bigg market in a T-shirt in the snow today

        Sorry, would you prefer I wear a coat next time?

  9. DropBear

    I haven't heard anyone even half-seriously discussing a Mars mission to propose doing it without any kind of shielding whatsoever; and as far as I can tell, that is what this probe measured: the dose you'd get if you went naked. Not that it would matter much in that case... As for solar nasties vs. deep-space nasties - it seems to me that the former would be much preferable seeing as how it would be coming from a well defined direction that you could position most of the mass of your spacecraft against for shielding - whereas the latter should be coming from all directions therefore be harder to shield. Then again, what do I know...

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      The problem with going at a higher point in the solar cycle, is that you risk being hit by a solar flare. If that happens, everyone's dead, and we don't have the shielding to stop it. We risked it for going to the Moon, because it was only a few days out of Earth's magnetic field. 6-8 months is a much higher risk, although admittedly you've still got to be unluck for the flare to go in your direction.

  10. lee harvey osmond

    Six months?????

    Nope. Forty days there, maybe forty days on the surface, forty days back.

    I'll want a really massive radiation shield made out of freshly-mined lead for all living spaces, on the voyage spacecraft, lander and habit to keep out cosmic nastiness.

    And an even bigger radiation shield to keep me safe from my own propulsion plant!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Six months?????

      Not lead, water ice.

      A suitable thickness would be just as good but can be used for drinking and propellant.

      Of course lifting such a mass would be hard, so nudge a near earth asteroid into close orbit

      1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: Six months?????

        I was wondering how much water would be sent up with this thing and whether it would be enough to line the living area with it. Assuming it would have a dedicated "living area".

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: Six months?????

          you don't need to surround the people-tank with shielding. the vast majority of cosmic radiation (outside of the van allen belts) is coming directly from the sun. so you just need to shield against solar flares and more generally against the solar output. I've heard of a 'safe room' concept for solar flare shielding. That may not even be needed in the region between earth and mars, depending on the nature of the ejected particles.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Six months?????

        water ice isn't a bad idea. but I was thinking liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellant. same idea, use the fuel and drinking water supply as your shielding from the sun.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Six months?????

      Nope. Forty days there, maybe forty days on the surface, forty days back.

      I can appreciate why you'd want that, but you'd need a shit-tonne of fuel to do it. The most fuel-efficient Earth-Mars transfer takes about 260 days, and you'd have to arrive at Mars with over half the total fuel needed for the trip or have that amount sent ahead and waiting for you in orbit. I'm not going to sit down and do the calculation now, but your 40-day requirement would take about ten times as much fuel, because when you leave either Earth or Mars you're having to accelerate the fuel you plan to burn along the way. That needs a bigger ship (and hence yet more fuel) or dozens of discardable tanks to be left flying around the solar system in long, narrow orbits. Messy.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: Six months?????

        Rich, I'd back you against the cowboys, but given the shielding requirements, it may make sense to have that mass as fuel. I could easily imagine a slow outbound trip and then sprinting home, burning the shielding. It's one of those things were someone does have to run the numbers and see what's best.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Six months?????

          I could easily imagine a slow outbound trip and then sprinting home, burning the shielding.

          You're certainly right that it needs a lot of investigation and analysis. One of the problems to be overcome, though, is that not all shielding is equal. A substance which is good at blocking or attenuating protons (the primary component of the solar wind) might do so in a way which induces a secondary neutron shower, so you need a secondary shield to catch all of those. This usually implies a lead/steel and water combination. If you're also burning fuel during the trip instead of falling under gravity after an initial burn to break planetary orbit, you don't have the luxury of being able to orientate your ship so that it provides optimal shielding if you're carrying little or no fuel and left out the heavy shielding. Resolving that will add a lot of engineering and introduce more things which could go wrong, because if there is a solar flare heading towards you you may lose three days of burn to avoid returning home minus your skin, and at a critical point could miss getting the ship home at all. It's complicated -- and I am far from an expert, so it's undoubtedly a damn sight more complicated than I think.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Six months?????

            Steel, water and polyethylene work very well in combination.

      2. Remy Redert

        Re: Six months?????

        If only there was a way to use that reaction mass an order of magnitude more efficiently, for example by using a nuclear thermal rocket or an electric plasma drive using a nuclear reactor for power.

        You would still want a pretty big ship to make it fast and to carry a lot of provisions, but you'd have a lot less reaction mass to haul around.

        1. lee harvey osmond

          Re: Six months?????

          Or even thermonuclear gadgets.

          The ship would be about a thousand tons of cast iron drive plate, about a thousand tons of crew space on top ... and a very big spring/shock absorber contraption in the middle, plus a few thousand tiny selectable-yield H-bombs in a magazine on rails a bit like a beer bottling plant, that'd be about another thousand tons.

          Set the fuse on a bomb for maybe 2s after it arms itself, shoot it out of a hole in the drive plate using some sort of spring cannon, then slam the trapdoor shut.

          This chemical rocket fuel business isn't half as much fun; doesn't deliver half the specific impulse either.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: Six months?????

          " by using a nuclear thermal rocket or an electric plasma drive using a nuclear reactor for power."

          science fiction has made this kind of assumption for quite some time. chemical rockets just aren't efficient enough to do it.

          The nuclear engine (fission) is probably the best bet at this time. You could use liquid water or liquid H2 to 'fuel' it (i.e. the mass that must be accelerated out the back end to provide impulse). Existing designs could be used or at least modified to fit the purpose. It would be restartable in space and efficient.

          I would prefer to see a fusion reactor, one that uses the H2 naturally occurring in water for propulsion and electricity. H2 could also be in a separate tank, but I think having a series of water tanks (where you separate out the H2 as needed) would be a kind of insurance against tank leakage or meteor damage. So yeah you bring extra fuel. In any case, a linear fusion reactor doesn't exist. It could exist, but nobody's trying to build one as far as I know. You just need a way of confining the hydrogen such that at least SOME of it fuses and heats the water to super-hot steam. Ideally you would want to accelerate only the fusion products to near light speed, but that makes a poor efficiency rocket. Better to have an ideal fuel mass instead, accelerated to a much lower speed, but maximizing the impulse. So yeah some kind of fuel (like water) would be ideal for that. And maybe SALT water would be even better... suck it up directly from the ocean. Very cheap that way on earth.

  11. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Can we just wait until we can upload minds into rad-hardened machines?

    It would be so much easier than pretend we can shoot flesher bodies, which are always in flux and totally dependent on a planet-sized supporting environment, to weird cinder blocks orbiting out there.

  12. herman Silver badge

    It may make things a lot easier if we would move Mars into orbit with the Moon.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Good plan! But how do you get the guy there who's going to attach the rocket that flies it to the Moon?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        I've got the answer. Colonise the Moon. Then fly the Moon to Mars - using our already radiation proof habitats as shielding.

        Then tow Mars back to lunar orbit. Sorted!

        Some say this is what happened to Moonbase Alpha.

  13. Wade Burchette Silver badge


    Whenever the topic of radiation comes up, I like to refer to this chart:

    It helps puts things into perspective and shows that radiation at low levels is not bad for you. But some people think that all radiation is immediately bad for you. This does not mean we cannot take steps to mitigate extra radiation on a trip to Mars. The chart is just meant to put things in perspective.

    1. Dabbb

      Re: Radiation

      Galactic cosmic rays (GCR) discussed in this article is a very different kettle of fish and their impact on humans is largely unknown simply because not that many people on this planet are exposed to radiation from particle beam accelerators, as opposite say to Chernobyl or Fukishima sort of events.

      Recent studies ( indicate that GCRs have significant impact on brain and nerve tissue, so DNA damage would be the least of concern for someone who lands on Mars with only 3/4 of brain left.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Radiation

      Radiation is far from the only problem. I think provisioning a trip that takes many months with no hope of resupply may be a far greater issue. Back in the days of exploration, ships carried some hand tools, nails, rope, canvas, metal parts, and figured they could find food, water and wood for repairs along the way and make/improvise anything they needed. They didn't always come home.

      An interplanetary vessel is going to include huge quantities of sophisticated electronics, composite materials, etc, etc, etc. Fixing anything that breaks en route is likely to be a major challenge. And due to the complexity of providing food, air, and water to the astronauts, there is going to be lots that might need fixing. A one or two year trip to Mars is going to be a far more complex task than a quick round trip to the Moon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Radiation

        If you have any sense, you send quite a few BFR's to Mars with provisions, repair parts, etc. Also, the water and such would help shield those orbital storehouses. Pretty much like having a forward base for the US Navy's SSBN/SSGN's in, e.g. Holy Loch, Scotland. That's something I'm pretty damned familiar with despite living on a tincan (destroyer). I'm intimately familiar with their logistic's problems.

    3. DJV Silver badge


      Now I know why I don't like bananas!

    4. Avatar of They

      Re: Radiation

      Well done, I think that is one of the most complicated diagrams I have seen that is given as a way to put things into perspective. :)

      I think I need a sit down and a beer while I get my head round it.

  14. MudFever

    Didn't we colonise the southern hemishpere (33 degrees south) with pioneers? Could a similar technique be used to kick-start Mars?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      How many of those involuntary pioneers had the skills to survive? With that in mind, how many people would you have to send to Mars to create a viable colony? And what sort of warm welcome would they give you when you turned up to take possession? Your 0.3g golf course and hotel venture might look profitable on paper and attract the money needed to fund the spaceship, but I don't think you would see much actual return on your investment.

  15. RGE_Master

    I never wanted kids anyway :D

  16. simonb_london

    Easy solution

    Just make the spacecraft out of lead. Simples.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Easy solution

      on Mythbusters they made a balloon out of lead. ok it was ginormously impractical but still...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing new here except that we have new Data on it (that some doubt).

    I'm sure we'll come up with new materials to defeat radiation issues, craft capable of replicating gravity a la Babylon5 etc...the only thing stopping us is the fact that we need to change our basic design via DNA to survive there. We've been discussing this for over forty years over at JPL...again, nothing new here.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "I'm sure we'll come up with new materials to defeat radiation issues"

      I wouldn't like to make a bold claim about this, but I don't think that will be easy. Alpha and beta radiation, fine, but gamma radiation is a whole different matter. The point is that the only way to stop gamma radiation is to put something in the way. The radiation is really narrow though, so whatever you put in front of it needs to be dense. Dense = mass, so it'll be heavy. You can throw up loads of lead into orbit on other launches, and then strap it on in orbit. That would help, but you still have to push this new, heavy craft around.

      Maybe in the future we'll be able to do something with some weird magnetic field or something, but I don't see physical materials on their own as solving gamma radiation.

  18. tiggity Silver badge


    Plenty of child free older folk would probably risk it - ignoring radiation, unless they do an awful lot of unmanned tests, chances are first manned voyage could be a one way mission anyway as lots more scope for problems than a moon trip. Mars attempt (some form of "crash & burn" in worst case) beats dreary ebbing away of last few decades.

  19. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Misread as: Flying to Mars will be so sad

  20. Crisp

    Meh, what's the worst that could happen?

    See title.

  21. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Just send the Cornish

    Been dealing with that level of radiation for years.

  22. JDX Gold badge

    more than half the maximum dose for an astronaut's entire career

    So don't do it more than once. Great.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tv will nick my ideas

    such a load of bollox in the space world. A solar panel a couple of hundred miles north in britain is not very effective and nor are crops but meanwhile buck rogers is going to power his whole colony from a tiny sun hundreds of millions of miles further from the sun and grow stuff.

    The only thing going to mars will be either robots or specially selected life term convicts who are given a chance to get out of a cell and do something redeeming.

    No doubt a good netflix series here to wash the taste of the idiot 'the martian' film away.

  24. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge


    We live in the surface of an iron sphere rotating at 40.000 kilometers per day, which generates a substantial electromagnetic field that filters most radiation...

    Perhaps scaling it down to a 4. ton spacecraft to obtain the same field... lined with carefully selected materials...

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Shields?

      This may be one of those instances where the inverse-square law is not your friend.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Shields?

        Especially as it's the atmosphere that counts against cosmic rays ("shields up"). The magnetic field is useful against charged particles from the sun, certainly.

      2. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge

        Re: Shields?

        If it was easy, NASA would have built it already.

        But our spaceship named EARTH works pretty well in that regard. Ozone layer and whatnot...

        Lets put that on the "brainstorm" bucket...

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Shields?

          Yeah, I'm all in favour of an ozone layer. We should work to keep it rather than hope to flee to Mars.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE. Re. Shielding

    I did read somewhere that it may be possible to fix two problems at once.

    Problem 1: lack of gravity, use a massive (8-12T) field so that the cells "see" a weak gravity-like effect.

    Problem 2: if the radiation is such a problem, design the field so unless there is a major solar flare the field stays at a sensible (eg lower power) energy and only shunts power back out of the coils when speed or vector changes are needed. Any really greasy stuff gets deflected enough so astronaut exposure is at a high but safer level.

    Also useful: that magnetic field might also be handy to run some experiments. It is believed that strong EM exposure may actually act like pressure in the short term so could be an effective way to "train" for the lower pressure when using suits on Mars by using long term high exposure.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: RE. Re. Shielding

      Problem 1: lack of gravity, use a massive (8-12T) field so that the cells "see" a weak gravity-like effect.

      Is this real? Even if it is, millenials won't like it as their nose rings and studs in various body places will be ripped out. "Sorry, you can't come as Space Pirate, you must be Enterprise levels of clean. And bring a tie."

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: RE. Re. Shielding

        Presumably anything inside that magnetic field risks being ripped out as well. So any life support kit and other electronics, a lot of which would probably fail. I'm guessing it may be more practical if the field was generated outside the ship where it may help with shielding.

        But there'd be the mass/energy budget to consider, and redundancy. So if the field generator failed, the ship would still need enough shielding to protect the crew and any organics like seeds that it may be carrying. Mass seems to be the general enemy of space exploration though. So the more complex we make a vehicle, the more it'd mass, plus the need to carry spares to fix anything that may go wrong. I guess some of the risk could be offset by sending stuff to Mars ahead of any manned ship so there'd be emergency supplies & spares for the return trip. Or sending those to Phobos and using that as a staging post.

        It's fun to think about though, ie the practicality of making a Spud-o-Matic greenhouse module that could be sent to Mars so there'd be food for any future Matt Damons.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: RE. Re. Shielding

          Or sending those to Phobos and using that as a staging post.

          Is Phobos's gravity sufficient to make that a practical matter rather than so small as to become a problem? I'd have thought it would be easier to insert food'n'fuel pods into Mars orbit and gather them up as you need them.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: RE. Re. Shielding

            Phobos might be a good start apart from it is falling to bits.

            On the other hand, lots of nice rare earths etc for making HTSC coils.

            Re. radiation, the plan here is to use a field strong enough that it emulates gravity. In fact a Bitter solenoid like arrangement just for some of the time ie during sleep may be enough, the system wouldn't be a lot more complicated than an MRI scanner and due to closed field loops quite compact.

            Also had some ideas to use rotation AND magnetic field, 2* the force.

            Once energized it should stay pretty much constant so spin 'er up when a big solar flare appears and all should be well.

            "Spin up the FTL drive!"

          2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: RE. Re. Shielding

            Is Phobos's gravity sufficient to make that a practical matter rather than so small as to become a problem? I'd have thought it would be easier to insert food'n'fuel pods into Mars orbit and gather them up as you need them.

            Dunno :)

            I'd think that having orbiting supplies might be harder, ie any craft would need to match orbits to dock or gather them up. And dropping supplies to the surface would also mean lofting them back out of the Martian gravity well, if they're meant to be for the return trip.

            But Phobos behaves predictably and doesn't have gravity to fight against. So it may be more practical as a staging post or base. Which is something that's been considered by NASA and others. And I guess on the more radical side, it's already got a slowly decaying orbit, so it may be possible to speed that up a bit and drop it on Mars. That would add a fair bit of heat, and if it's got water, may help kick-start an atmosphere. Dropping rocks is probably something we'd want to do before colonising the surface though.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As the solar wind has been reducing for years, possibly ending up at a new Maunder Minimum, the longer they leave it the more radiation they'll encounter.

    1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Actually, counter intuitively you actually want to go when solar flares are at a maximum. solar flares consist of largely protons. Quite small amounts of shielding will stop these. The bigger issues is cosmic rays, these are far higher energy and hard to stop.

      However during solar maximums, the heliosphere reduces cosmic ray rates, so you are better off when activity is at its maximum.

  27. Jay Lenovo

    This is a job for the Tardigrade (microscopic water bears, relatively impervious to radiation and the vacuum of space).

    All of earth's heros may not be human.

  28. FozzyBear Silver badge

    Meh. considering the where things are headed down here, I'll take my chances up there .

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Only a handful of humans will ever make the round trip

    After the first few missions to check things out, everyone else who goes there will be there to stay. Life on Mars will be so hard and risky that cancer you might get 30 years after you arrive will be the least of your concerns!

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Only a handful of humans will ever make the round trip

      Cracking TV show though.

  30. DrM

    Anything can be done if you just tell the engineers

    Musk will just tell his SW engineers to fix it in software.

  31. Zmodem

    if you don't care for NASA it would be more along the lines of 2% with a graphite hull and a force field, and a decent designed ship that was'nt a brick

    you would have to be british though

    its all the small details that make a black project space plane with em drive possible

  32. wayward4now

    What happened to...

    ...the notion of a large vessel, like in "2001" with plenty of bulk for shielding, and room to move around and exercise in?? A friggin capsule?? Who came up with that idiotic notion??

    1. Zmodem

      Re: What happened to...

      use silica as a bond for graphite and be tougher then diamond, and get to mars in 2 days, and you won't need to exercise

      there is an infinate amount of research on silicone types and radiation types, most of it absorbs gamma radiation

      take 30 minutes to get to the moon, if you have em drive with 0.2 second acceleration

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Which is Worse?

    Hmmm. Is it better to go on a great adventure for a year or two and then die of cancer, or to stay earth-bound, get married, work like a dog, be taken for granted, and eventually get nagged into an early grave (probably with cancer then too). If I could, I'd take the adventure. But alas, I was born too early. Oh well, maybe next time.

    1. Esme

      Achey bones

      The thought of being shipped to a world with just 40% of earths gravity to do research and help set things up for following crews actually sounds pretty good to me in a lot of ways - less problems with achey joints and feet (I'm in my 60s), I'd get to do useful science, the big dream of my childhood would be finally realised... - it;d only be social stuff that'd be a negative. I wouldnt care much about that kind of radiation dose, as I'm likely to check out before that'd get me anyway. I've had some degree level education in both physics and horticulture, and would be perfectly happy to have my corpse added to the biomass used to extend the amount of soil on Mars usable for growing food crops.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: Achey bones

        I'd be more worried about my achy breaky heart.

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