The head of surgery at University Hospitals in Iowa City is helping NASA identify potential problems with a manned mission to Mars — and find solutions.
The University of Iowa’s Dr. Carol Scott-Conner serves on a 14-member panel that issued a report this week called “Safe Passage” for the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Scott-Conner says the Earth’s magnetic field protects astronauts on the shuttle, space station and Moon missions from radiation, but that radiation could be deadly in deep space.
Dr. Scott-Conner says it’d take six months for a spacecraft to reach Mars from Earth and we don’t now have the technology to assure a person could live that long in the deep space environment. Besides making a capsule heavier, plating or shielding would only absorb radiation and create a possibly-more-dangerous “secondary” radiation. She’s confident in the next 15 to 20 years, a way will be found to make the intrepid mission a reality.
Dr. Scott-Conner says scientists are working on solutions which could include ways to make an astronaut more resistant to radiation. She says that’s something of intense interest in the medical profession as it’d help patients undergoing radiation treatments. Due to the alignment of the planets, the first Martian explorers may be on the red planet a full year before they could return. Given the long voyage, that would extend the mission to at least two, perhaps three years in duration.