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How to not get cancer traveling to Mars

Traveling from Earth to Mars -- or other parts of the Solar System -- could be hazardous in unexpected ways. Traveling on an archetypal rocket ship -- pointed nose, streamlined for traveling through Earth's and other worlds' atmospheres, you know the drill, you've seen it on the covers of so many paperback science fiction novels -- would also entail minimizing the mass of the ship, and that means a relatively thin hull. Solar and other radiation -- gamma rays, cosmic rays, X-rays, hard ultraviolet, etc. -- would penetrate such a hull, and over the months it would take to get to Mars or return to Earth, astronauts would encounter enough hard radiation that they would very likely get cancer from it, likely metastasizing malignant tumors.

Scary? A reason not to go into space? I don't think so.

In the first place, because there is no friction in space (no atmosphere), as long as the ship didn't have to ascend to space in an atmosphere or return to a planet through one, it wouldn't need to be aerodynamically sound or streamlined. You could build something huge and in any shape at all if you built it in orbit around the Earth and had it orbit Mars or whatever other body when it arrived there. Building it BIG would leave plenty of room for shuttle bays that could hold several ground-to-space/space-to-ground shuttles that would do the donkey work of putting humans and supplies of all kinds aboard the giant orbit-to-orbit ships and landing them on planets.

Second, because that ship will never touch down on a planet, you can make the outer hull as thick as you please, and even inject water into it. This will provide excellent shielding against external radiation, so that cancer will not become an inevitable outcome of traveling between planets in the Solar System (or, dare we say it? During interstellar travel!).

Third, depending upon how large you make the ship, you can construct all the control rooms, supply caches, scientific labs, and state rooms in it that would be desirable, for a full crew, passengers, scientists, workmen, and even animals and plants. How to make it big? Find a suitably sized asteroid, either a Near Earth Object or an asteroid from the inner side of the main asteroid belt, and tow it into a very wide Earth orbit where work can begin on it. Carve out apartments and so on in it as desired, being sure to leave a very thick outer layer (hull).

Fourth, WHY THE HELL AREN'T WE PLANNING TO DO THIS ALREADY?! We need to do this, and do it NOW. Between Fukushima fallout and other forms of pollution, countless rapid extinctions of Earthly life via habitat destruction and other biospheric torts, Kim Jong Un's and Iran's nuclear tantrums, and the general stupidity of so much of humankind (and no, I am NOT going to herein enter a tirade against Donald Trump, one of my very favorite Presidents, who is, by the way, all for space, and is intelligent enough for me), we need a backup or backups for Earth, and we need them NOW. On the Moon. On Mars. In habitats carved out of asteroids orbiting the Sun. On worlds beyond the Solar System.

Anyway, when it comes to space ships, stop thinking "streamlined" and start thinking "huge rock in Earth orbit. Your grandchildren will thank you for it.

Posts from This Journal by “space” Tag


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Yael Dragwyla

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