Published on: 23 Oct '13Published in: PloS one
Astronauts on a mission to Mars would be exposed for up to 3 years to galactic cosmic rays (GCR)--made up of high-energy protons and high charge (Z) and energy (E) (HZE) nuclei. GCR exposure rate increases about three times as spacecraft venture out of Earth orbit into deep space where protection of the Earth's magnetosphere and solid body are lost. NASA's radiation standard limits astronaut exposures to a 3% risk of exposure induced death (REID) at the upper 95% confidence interval (CI) of the risk estimate. Fatal cancer risk has been considered the dominant risk for GCR, however recent epidemiological analysis of radiation risks for circulatory diseases allow for predictions of REID for circulatory diseases to be included with cancer risk predictions for space missions. Using NASA's models of risks and uncertainties, we predicted that central estimates for radiation induced mortality and morbidity could exceed 5% and 10% with upper 95% CI near 10% and 20%, respectively for a Mars mission. Additional risks to the central nervous system (CNS) and qualitative differences in the biological effects of GCR compared to terrestrial radiation may significantly increase these estimates, and will require new knowledge to evaluate.