On Scientific American, Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix argue that instead of focusing on Mars or even the Moon, we should set our goals in colonising Titan. While the icy moon of Saturn isn't exactly as welcoming as Mars, it does offer one crucial thing that no other planet in our solar system except Earth can offer: protection from Galactic Cosmic Rays, energetic particles from distant supernovae, capable of destroying brain tissue. Of course, first we need some efficient way to get there.
[...] although the Moon and Mars look like comparatively reasonable destinations, they also have a deal-breaking problem. Neither is protected by a magnetosphere or atmosphere. Galactic Cosmic Rays, the energetic particles from distant supernovae, bombard the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, and people can’t live long-term under the assault of GCRs.
The cancer-causing potential of this powerful radiation has long been known, although it remains poorly quantified. But research in the least two years has added a potentially more serious hazard: brain damage. GCRs include particles such as iron nuclei traveling at close to the speed of light that destroy brain tissue.
Exposing mice to this radiation at levels similar to those found in space caused brain damage and loss of cognitive abilities, according to a study published last year by Vipan K. Parihar and colleagues in Science Advances. That research suggests we aren’t ready to send astronauts to Mars for a visit, much less to live there.
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