Perceptions and acceptance of risk from radiation exposure in space flight
There are a number of factors that influence how a person views a particular risk. These include whether the risk is judged to be voluntary and/or controllable, whether the effects are immediate or delayed, and the magnitude of the benefits that are to be gained as a result of being exposed to the risk. An important aspect of the last factor is whether those who suffer the risks are also those who stand to reap the benefits. The manner in which risk is viewed is also significantly influenced by the manner in which it is framed and presented. In short, risk does not exist in the world independent of our minds and cultures, waiting to be measured. Assessments of risk are based on models whose structure is subjective and associated evaluations are laden with assumptions whose inputs are dependent on judgments. In fact, subjectivity permeates every aspect of risk assessment. The assessment of radiation risks in space is no exception. The structuring of the problem includes judgments related to the probability, magnitude, and effects of the various types of radiation likely to be encountered and assumptions related to the quantitative relationship between dose and range of specific effects, all of which have associated uncertainties. For these reasons, there is no magic formula that will lead us to a precise level of acceptable risk from exposure to radiation in space. Acceptable risk levels must evolve through a process of negotiation that integrates a large number of social, technical, and economic factors. In the end, a risk that is deemed to be acceptable will be the outgrowth of the weighing of risks and benefits and the selection of the option that appears to be best.