Inverse Daily: Travelers to Mars and Beyond Might Be Doomed

As NASA works towards a new ambitious timeline to get humanity to the moon and Mars, they'll also have to deal with how conditions of deep space affect human bodies.

What’s going on, Inverse Daily fam? Some good news to get your day started: Puffins, the stubby birds that inspired Star Wars’ Porgs, are having one of their most successful mating seasons in years. Nice. Now let’s dive into today’s news.

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INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“You can improve your life in a number of different ways if you have a little bit of money.”

— Assistant professor of psychology and public affairs Johannes Haushofer, Ph.D., on research suggesting a universal basic income would make people a little happier.

Not So Fast

Earlier this month, a team called TUM Hyperloop set the public speed record for the Hyperloop system first outlined by Elon Musk. Its pod, zipping along a vacuum-sealed tunnel, reached a record speed of 288 miles per hour — a 4-mph improvement on the record the same team set last year. That’s pretty dang fast by car standards, but it’s not quite enough. Hyperloop, as Musk envisions it, should be transporting passengers and cargo at speeds closer to 700 mph.

The problem, Mike Brown tells me, might be that the tunnels where hyperloop pods are being tested are simply too short for any team to achieve top speed. After all, most of the public speed records have been set on SpaceX’s 0.8-mile test track in Hawthorne, California; meanwhile, Richard Branson’s track, “DevLoop,” is only 0.28 miles long. We’ll soon find out whether the issue is really all about length. Musk has teased that next year the Hyperloop competition will take place in a tunnel closer to 6.2 miles long.

Find out why size matters.

The more you know:

Brace for Space

In April, NASA’s “twins study” revealed good news for future spacefarers. For the most part, hanging out in low-Earth orbit, as astronaut Scott Kelly did while his twin Mark stayed behind on terra firma, doesn’t have lasting effects on the human body. Unfortunately, humanity’s ambitious plans for space exploration look far beyond our moon’s orbit, and it’s not clear how our bodies will change if we’re exposed to the much harsher environment of deep space.

As we move toward Mars and beyond, we’ll be bombarded with galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), comprising high-energy particles that can penetrate both spacecraft and human bodies. To find out how exposure to these powerful doses might affect living things, scientists recently built a machine to blast doses of radiation similar to GCR at mice, Emma Betuel tells me. The results were not promising: Mice turned out more anxious, less sociable, and worse at memory tests once the trials were through.

Find out why scientists think one in five astronauts might face the same issues.

The more you know:

Policing the Police

Amid a heartbreakingly brutal week for violence in the US, new research is revealing the human impact of the use of force by American police. As Sarah Sloat tells me, the data show that police use of force is one of the leading causes of death in young men between the ages of 25 and 29. Currently, it ranks sixth for that demographic, but the scientists behind the study caution that the data on police killings may be inaccurate. Police are not required by law to report that they killed anyone, so the count may actually be an underestimate.

But the lack of authoritative, official data on police killings makes it difficult to police the police. The most reliable data we’ve got comes not from government projects but from public projects like the National Vital Statistics mortality files and Fatal Encounters, a database maintained by journalists. These projects have revealed that people of color suffer far more from police violence than white Americans. While men in general face a 1 in 2,000 chance of being killed by police over a lifetime, the chances are doubled at 1 in 1,000 for black men.

Why doesn’t the government require these stats to be recorded? Good question.

The more you know:

Fill ‘Er Up

Last week, Bill Nye and The Planetary Society announced the success of LightSail 2, a sailboat-like spacecraft that relies solely on sunlight to glide through space. If we can figure out how to expertly sail the solar seas, so to speak, that’d save us the trouble of coming up with a plan to fuel and refuel spacecraft as they make their long journeys into the outer reaches of our solar system. But for now, astronauts, too, must do the mundane and stop for gas.

Among the vehicles we’re planning to launch in that direction is SpaceX’s Mars-bound rocket, the Starship. It’s going to have to stop for gas at some point, since, even at its behemoth size, it’s still too small to get to the Red Planet without refueling. That’s why NASA and SpaceX are working together to figure out how to transfer propellant in orbit — in other words, set up gas stations in space.

Find out how these tricky transfers will take place.

The more you know:

Space Invader

Most people think of Hawaii as a lush paradise of exotic jungle species. That’s true — but maybe not for long. As Nick Lucchesi tells me, the islands’ natural diversity of flora and fauna are threatened by a pretty little tree called the strawberry guava. Don’t let its smooth bark and sweet, cherry-red fruits fool you. The plant is a ferocious invader, and it’s poised to take over half the island chain’s landmass because it has zero natural enemies.

Since the strawberry guava, which was brought over from Brazil for its “ornamental attributes,” is so hardy, it can out-compete native plants, which not only reduces the biodiversity of the islands but also has ripple effects on the other organisms that rely on those plants. Locals make the best of it by turning the fruit into tasty jam, but sweet treats aren’t really helping the problem. If you’re planning to visit, you can help scientists track where the plant is wreaking havoc by documenting its location using an app called Seek.

Learn why this pretty invader is more trouble than its good looks are worth.

The more you know:

Today’s Good Thing

Because life on this planet is only going to get better if we try to make it better, each day I’ll be presenting One Good Thing humans are doing to create positive change.

Today, that’s Costa Rica, which generated a whopping 99.99 percent of its energy in May from renewable sources, including geothermal energy.

Meanwhile …

  • Tesla solar roof rollout kicks up a gear as the company preps high-speed tests.
  • A nutritionist describes the health pros and cons of five common sweeteners.
  • Mindhunter Season 2 trailer reveals the return of a Season 1 favorite.
  • One line from Star Wars: A New Hope may reveal Kylo’s fate in Rise of Skywalker.

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Thanks for reading, gang!

Thoughts on the brutal stats on police killings in America? Let me know at yasmin@inverse.com.

But baby if you love me, take me to the gas station,

— Yasmin