Researchers have come up with a new plan to help astronauts survive high-level radiation in space and even get them to Mars without the deadly exposure expected during three years of space travel. Researchers developed new discoveries and drug creation could be beneficial to future astronauts on deep space missions. 

Researchers with the artificial intelligence company Insilico Medicine Inc who teamed up with international scientists say discoveries in gene therapy and drug creation could be beneficial to future astronauts on deep space missions. It is estimated that a return trip from Mars would expose astronauts to radiation doses of 600 mSv – a large proportion of the lifetime cap Nasa sets for space travelers of 800-1200 mSv.

Assuming that those astronauts will have had training on the ISS, it’s safe to assume their radiation exposure, including that gained on Earth, will be awfully near the lifetime cap by the time they return. Nasa identified radiation as one of its top research priorities last year, and said in 2015: “Though far off, a medication that would counteract some or all of the health effects of radiation exposure would make it much easier to plan for a safe journey to Mars and back.”

Sinclair says some species are known to have resistance to radiation. “Tardigrades and radiodurans bacteria are the most commonly studied,” he said. There are DNA protection genes in both tardigrades – microscopic animals nicknamed “water bears” – and radiodurans that also protect human cells from radiation. Sinclair said his team is working with these and four other species. “They might boost DNA repair or prevent DNA damage they don’t know for sure yet,” he said.

A team of physicists at the University of New Hampshire recently published results of a deep space radiation study, which measured four years of radiation dose levels tracked by Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has circled the moon since 2009 and compared their findings to previous measurements. The results showed a 30% increase in radiation over the last four years, leading scientists to conclude future astronauts will be exposed to higher levels of radiation.

They got involved in this because of our expertise in radiation biology and space biology. Researchers say the long-term benefit of the paper is to establish a foundation upon which future radioresistance work can be built.

According to UNH scientists, the increase of radiation is attributable to a weakening of the sun’s magnetic field during its solar cycle. Right now, the top methods of protecting astronauts from radiation involve improving spacecraft and the spacesuit of the astronaut. The plan by Cortese and co would build upon the study of human aging, by making some cells radio-resistant, like some types of bacteria, using gene therapy.