Can i travel to mars

Radiation research for the trip to Mars

Mars research so far only by space probes

2020 is a "Mars year" for space travel. There are currently 3 probes on the long way to the Red Planet, from the USA, from China and, as the first Arab probe, from the United Arab Emirates.

The space probes were launched at the end of July, and in February they will reach Mars and explore our neighboring planet in various ways, including in preparation for a manned flight to Mars - and this is where scientists from the Freiburg University Hospital come into play. With their current research, they are making a decisive contribution to ensuring that humans can even take the flight to Mars.

Central problem for manned spaceflight

Future trips to Mars could fail because the radiation exposure for space travelers cannot be controlled. That is why radiation doctors in Freiburg, on behalf of the European Space Agency ESA, are researching how strongly and with what consequences space radiation affects blood-forming human stem cells.

Space radiation destroys the genetic make-up of cells - the aim of our project is to investigate whether we have options to protect the bone marrow from radiation damage or to have radiation damage repaired, which astronauts may experience in space.

Nils Henrik Nicolay, Clinic for Radiation Medicine, University Clinic Freiburg

Generation of space radiation on earth

The Heidelberg University Hospital has a huge radiation cannon. It is as big as a house, weighs 670 tons and consumes the electricity of a small town. But it is one of the few places where space radiation can be generated on earth. Seriously ill cancer patients are usually treated there.

The research team can precisely irradiate the bone marrow cells at a 360-degree angle and vary the composition and intensity of the radiation. This can create realistic conditions for future astronauts.

Extreme radiation exposure on Mars

On a Mars mission over many months, space travelers would have to withstand a high level of radiation. It is hundreds of times higher than on earth. The reason is that only a small part of the cosmic radiation reaches the earth through the earth's magnetic field.

That is why the Freiburg researchers expose their samples to extreme doses of radiation and examine how the bone marrow cells behave before and after the radiation.

Where we ourselves were a bit surprised was the fact that the stem cells that we analyzed are relatively insensitive to cosmic radiation, particle radiation. On the other hand, we have also seen that these cells are actually able to reduce radiation damage in other tissues, in other cells.

Nils Henrik Nicolay, radiation medicine specialist

Hope for the flight to Mars

With the results, the researchers hope that hematopoietic stem cells can be carried on space flights and that space travelers can use them like a drug against radiation damage.

The “journey to the red planet” can only become a reality if the problem of radiation exposure is solved.
The radiation research team from Freiburg will therefore play a major role in ensuring that the long flight to Mars can be successful - and that humans land on its surface.