Is epigenetic modification the key to protecting against radiation ? Image Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings
Of all the challenges that will need to be overcome before humans can journey to Mars, finding a way to protect astronauts from the deadly radiation that they will be inevitably exposed to during the trip has long proven difficult, especially given that the spacecraft will need to be as light as possible and lining it with thick layers of lead wouldn’t exactly be practical or advisable.
Despite this however, NASA appears to be hard at work coming up with a solution, as evidenced by recent comments made by Douglas Terrier, the space agency’s acting chief technologist.
“We’re looking at a range of things, from drug therapies, and those seem to be quite promising, to more extreme things like epigenetic modification,” he told the Times.
“I think those have a lot of ethical consequences so they’re still in the experimental thought stages.”
What this means is that NASA is actually looking in to the possibility of altering the way genes are read by the body to make them more resilient against cancer and other radiation-related ailments.
If that all sounds very science-fiction then that’s because, for the moment at least, it is, however by the time a mission to Mars is likely to happen, techniques like these might actually be commonplace.
Whether this will be the best option for protecting future Mars astronauts however remains to be seen.