NASA weighs radiation danger in units of cancer risk. A healthy 40-year-old non-smoking American male stands a (whopping) 20% chance of eventually dying from cancer. That's if he stays on Earth. If he travels to Mars, the risk goes up.
The question is, how much?
"We're not sure," says Cucinotta. According to a 2001 study of people exposed to large doses of radiation--e.g., Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors and, ironically, cancer patients who have undergone radiation therapy--the added risk of a 1000-day Mars mission lies somewhere between 1% and 19%. "The most likely answer is 3.4%," says Cucinotta, "but the error bars are wide.
"What shall we do with Mars?
"There are so many examples of human misuse the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes. The existence of an independent biology on a nearby planet is a treasure beyond assessing, and the preservation of that life must, I think, supersede any other possible use of Mars."
If the planet is ever terraformed, it will be done by human beings whose permanent residence and planetary affiliation is Mars. The Martians will be us."
Deep in outer space, millions of miles from civilisation, they say no-one can hear you scream.
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