How Astronauts Could Survive High Radiation at Mars

International researchers have found that gene therapy could help astronauts survive the dangerous high-level radiation in space, and even get them to Mars without the dangerous exposure expected during three years of space travel.

Astronauts receive extremely high doses of radiation beyond Earth's magnetic field. It is estimated that a return trip from Mars would expose astronauts to radiation doses of 600 mSv – which accounts almost for the lifetime limit of 800-1200 mSv that NASA sets for space travelers. Even if able to eventually get there, the first humans to walk on Mars would also be stepping into a harsh, dangerous environment.

According to the NASA Space Radiation Health Project, exposure to radiation also increases astronauts’ risk of several cancers, genetic mutations, and nervous system damage. International researchers and scientists might have found the key for astronauts to survive exposure to high-level radiation in a deep space mission.

The Oncotarget journal published a paper this year presenting gene therapy as a possible solution for humans to survive space radiation. The authors of the scientific article claim that artificial intelligence can help identify the cells in the body are more resistant to radiation, allowing to strengthen them using gene therapy.

Dr. David Sinclair, Professor at the School of Medicine at The University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney and Professor in the Genetic Department at Harvard Medical School, Boston, worked on a study last year that could lead to a drug development that improves the ability of DNA to repair itself and could reverse ageing. In an interview with The Guardian, he said that some species, which include tardigrades, are known to be radiation-resistant. Introducing protective genes from other species offer the possibility of boosting DNA repair and prevent DNA damage. "We are working with Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to find new genes that protect DNA and introducing new genes such as Dsup," he said.

According to The Guardian, a study published in 2016 shows that human cells infused with tardigrade genes were able to suppress x-ray damage by about 40 percent. Sinclair and colleagues have already started human trials to determine if a DNA precursor can prevent DNA damage from exposure to radiation.

The future of space exploration

The future of humanity relies on space exploration. Conquering the next barrier not only is full of expectations for the advancement of science, but also is also highly regarded as a journey that will bring humankind together. But where will we go (and where we will not) by 2030? For the 24 edition of OPENSPACE, we met the experts who can answer the question, “What does the future of space exploration really hold?”