back to article Curiosity clears Mars radiation levels for fleeting human visits

NASA has released the first radiation readings taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars, and it looks as though astronauts should be able to stay on the planet for at least six months without significant health risks. Curiosity is the first rover to take radiation readings from another planet using its Radiation Assessment Detector …

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"There are also radioprotectant drugs used on Earth to treat radiation exposure"

Uhm, not really. I am not aware of any valid scientific evidence of anything that protects against radiation.

There are 2 possible things you were thinking of here, the most likely being those radiation pills that were handed out during chernobyl and fukushima. These pills do not directly protect against radiation, but simply help the body remove certain elements such as Iodine and Strontium. These are by far the most dangerous releases from both accidents as the body focuses them in relatively small areas ( in the case of Iodine, it's in the Thyroid Gland, massively increasing the chances of Thyroid Cancer. ) Naturally, these would not work at all on Mars as you are not ingesting radioactive Iodine there. There are indeed some pretty nasty potential side-effects from these, but it's better than cancer.

The second possibility is a pair of herbs that each had a study done and found the blood samples tested were partially protected against the effects of radiation.

Sounds good...until you read that the test contained a whopping 5 samples. If you tossed a coin 5 times, and got tails 5 times..I'd hardly say that's evidence for a coin always landing on tails.

Then theres also a bunch of typical new age claims with absolutely no real evidence. They couldn't even be bothered to do a test of 5 samples.

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Boffin

I thought iodine itself is fine, its the fact that it happily absorbs radiation.

The pills contain concentrated iodine, so once taken, you body absorbs less iodine from the environment (and so you get less radioactive iodine).

I maybe completely wrong here, it just is something I read when researching about fukushima.

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Boffin

Iodine pills

The way they're supposed to work is by "saturating" the thyroid gland, and so prevent it taking up radioactive iodine. Which means you'd have to take the stuff before you expect to run the risk of being hit by I-131

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unaware is not the same as non existet

Try googlinfg "amifostine" for papers in the us national library of medicine. There is a lot of "scientific" stuff to be found there.

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@DJ Smiley

You are right; it's the thyroid gland that will absorb (and store) all the iodine it can get its hands on. Iodine exists in very low concentrations in the diet, so the organs of the body that need it tend to grab at it greedily. This is especially true of the thyroid gland which stores iodine for its processes, and also continuously uses it to produce essential hormones.

When exposed to relatively large amounts of radioactive iodine, by drinking contaminated water, the thyroid gratefully absorbs it and fills up its storage areas thus concentrating radioactive material into its own small local volume. This is disastrous, for obvious reasons.

If iodine pills (actually potassium iodide salt) are taken before contamination of the environment occurs, then the thyroid will 'top up' with the non-radioactive iodine and will then not absorb radioactive iodine when the body is contaminated with it. The radioactive contaminant will be gradually eliminated in the urine, as will the excess iodine from the pills. Radioactive iodine has a half life of eight days, so it's necessary to take the iodine pills for a while to ensure that the thyroid gland stays 'topped up' with with non-radioactive iodine and thus has a low chance of absorbing the radioactive contaminant.

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Sorry to change the subject but 9 months to get to Mars, and 9 months to return...that's a long time. That's a year and a half of someone's life, to go spend some time on an arid, airless desert containing nothing but the tightest practical limitations to our freedom. Is it worth it?

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Worth every second.

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Devil

They spend how many years going to uni, and then training as astronauts, "simply" for the reason of going a few hundred miles above the earth.

Most people would jump at the chance. I would.

(Some people "waste" a year or two traveling around the globe).

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Gimme a small chest, about 1m x 0.5m x 0.5m, for DVD's, laptop, other little bits along the way. Pack enough food. Then try and stop me.

Seriously 18 months is NOTHING here. You can spend that planning a Arctic mission, or building the device to dive deeper in the ocean. In terms of interplanetary exploration, it's also nothing. Six months of a human on the planet is an unmatched amount of science capability that even 10 years would be worth waiting for. Don't forget, we've NEVER set foot on anything past the Moon, haven't even done that in 40 years, and we spent only a matter of HOURS there in total.

It's taken months for the Curiosity rover to pick up two bits of dirt and stick them in an analyser, and move a few hundred yards. It took years for the other Mars rovers to move a few miles and do a few scoops. A human could get equivalent science into equivalent sensors in a handful of days, and stand significantly less chance of mission failure (e.g. dying for humans, getting stuck or breaking things for rovers). Hell, if we had a human on Mars, the rovers would all be obsolete instantly (and that human would be able to get even some of the failed missions working again in a matter of days, with sufficient contact/training).

People seem to have this idea that Mars is "just another Moon", and that we actually managed to exploit the Moon for its full potential. Not even close. All we've done so far is, quite literally, put a toe in the water for the very first time. And in front of us is an entire ocean, completely unexplored and unknown. Even getting to Mars with a human and staying for 6 months would barely be ankle-deep paddling, but it's a damn sight more than we even done in the whole history of spaceflight. Historically, the whole of the space programme is like saying we "been to the Marianas Trench" or even "know all about it" by sailing a boat over the top of it. But 6 months on Mars, the largest manned mission ever launched, wouldn't be close to finding those weird white fish at the bottom, but it *would* be at least like getting a diving suit on and taking a few photos.

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@Lee Dowling

Totally agree!

"human would be able to get even some of the failed missions working again in a matter of days, with sufficient contact/training"

I would say he would be able to get most of the failed missions working in a matter of hours or minutes, mostly with a wrench and a dust brush and some with just giving the hapless robotic explorer a push and a kick in a strategic location...

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@anomalous cowshed

I refer the good commentard to the voyages of Christopher Columbus, and later to the Challenger Expedition - the first dedicated Oceanographic Voyage aimed purely at surveying the oceans and collecting scientific samples (as opposed to moar gold). The sailors of the Columbus expeditions were literally sailing into the unknown, and although the Challenger crew had an idea where they were going, they were exploring the unknown - for 4 years. Humanity is full of explorers, and now we've mapped our own planet pretty well, we're doing two things - going to the deeps that we haven't mapped (c.f. Branson and Cameron's missions to the Marianas Trench), and travelling off the surface of this rock we inhabit.

There are thousands of geologists, astrobiologists, and the like who would bite your hand off for the chance to spend 6 months experimenting on the surface of Mars. The 3 year round trip is less than an Olympic cycle - and thousands of people put their lives and careers on hold for those sorts of periods to train for their discipline (I'm talking about the amateur/semi-pro athletes who make huge personal sacrifices to pursue their passion, not the fully funded types who have made a career of sport and don't need to worry about paying the rent, although once upon a time they were semi-pro too).

Who wouldn't want to be the next Neil Armstrong?

Also yes, even non-Martian astronauts train for years before they fly. Britain's sole astronaut won't get a seat until 2018/19 at the earliest, but he's training now, and has been for a couple of years, and that's just for ISS missions, which is only 250miles over your head.

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Re: @anomalous cowshed

When I put "Their lot was perhaps even harder than ours", I meant "even harder than the astronauts", sorry

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How do you know it's worth every second? Do you spend 9 months at a time stuck in a small tin can UNABLE TO GET OUT? Would you feel the same if you did? You would probably be seriously traumatised and claustrophobic if you had to spend a day in such an environment.

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"Some people spend 2 years travelling around the world"

They spend 2 years travelling round the planet, breathing air, drinking water, meeting women/men, looking at lots of interesting things, having fun, incredible experiences, being able to move around, feeling utterly free and meanwhile, being able to decide to go home at a moment's notice, and get back safely in a matter of hours or days at most. The year and a half in the space ship is far more likely to feel like being in a prison cell for 18 months than travelling around the world. You are most unlikely to see or experience anything interesting, and if you do, it will probably mean the end of you. The best thing would be to put you to sleep on the way to and back. But you're still throwing away part of your life.

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Re: @anomalous cowshed

I thank the honourable rh587 for his insightful comment, and I would like to mention the fact that I was myself thinking about Columbus and his sailors and those of many other ships in similar circumstances when I made my unpopular comment. Their lot was perhaps as hard or even harder than that of tomorrow's astronauts. However, they travelled in the hope of finding and exploring and owning new lands full of promise and wealth, and it was considered that there was a likelihood that they would achieve this. Whereas we are shooting people at a place which we already know is a barren desert - i.e. when you get there, there's not even a remote chance that it will be a lush wonderland for you to lord over and enjoy. You'll be stuck in a tiny capsule and if you wander outside, you'll have to do so in a constraining space suit. You're spending all this time in a tin can for nothing, in practical terms.

As for biting my hand off, I would rather these worthy geologists and astrobiologists left it alone as I have done nothing wrong to them. If they want to bite their own hand off, that's another matter, it's entirely up to them. I believe that this is what the honourable commentard intended to allude to, rather than any purported mass attack on my hand by thousands of zombified geologists and astrobiologists.

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FAIL

Don"t ya just love the magnetosphere!

Does anyone remember a rather poor British sci-fi series (one only) where at least one of the subplots relied on the lack of a magnetic field (on an otherwise lush inhabited planet)

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Stop

vomiting in spacesuits?

If they're going to be spending 6 months on Mars, one hopes that they won't be in the same space suit the whole time, or an occasional puke would be the least of their worries. Does Mars have caves? A few interconnected airtight insulated tents tucked into a nice deep cave should be almost home from home, and nicely radiation-protected as well.

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Re: vomiting in spacesuits?

Not aware of any caves - but there is lots of sand! You could land an unmanned habitation module and some robot diggers first and set them to burying the habitation in sand as a refuge or sleeping quarters.

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Re: vomiting in spacesuits?

There are caverns on Mars. Google for 'hole on Mars'. E.g.

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120718.html

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