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Space & Astronomy

Radiation could thwart future space travel

By T.K. Randall
October 24, 2014 · Comment icon 21 comments

Cosmic radiation could prove fatal to astronauts. Image Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings
Sending humans in to space is set to become more difficult due to cosmic radiation exposure.
One of the more understated dangers of manned space travel is the threat posed by cosmic rays entering our solar system from interstellar space.

While the sun's magnetic field usually offers some protection against this, our solar companion has been experiencing something of a quiet period lately and its effectiveness at shielding against cosmic radiation is at a minimum.
Here on Earth and up on the International Space Station our planet's own magnetic field protects us against cosmic rays, but for astronauts undertaking a trip further afield the problem could expose them to deadly amounts of radiation and make such a journey infeasible.

At current levels an astronaut on a mission to Mars will receive their maximum allowable radiation dose within as little as 100 days. Reinforcing a spacecraft with thicker walls might help to alleviate the problem but would make things more technologically challenging due to the added weight.

Ultimately a portable electromagnetic shield generator, something currently relegated to the realms of science fiction, may be needed before long term space travel can become a realistic possibility.

Source: New Scientist | Comments (21)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #12 Posted by AliveInDeath7 10 years ago
Or, space travel may have to be suited to the dynamics outside of ours.
Comment icon #13 Posted by XenoFish 10 years ago
If we can perfect cybernetics then we might be sending human brains in mechanical bodies to the depth of space. Perhaps if our technology get's advanced enough these's cyber-astronauts could take with them some kind of genesis machine. Something that would terraform life supporting planets and engineer life on those worlds. If nothing else I've given someone inspiration for a new sci-fi movie/novel.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Mark56 10 years ago
"This makes me wonder if traversing the vast distances of interstellar space is possible for biological life-forms." Watch the movie "Contact". The most fascinating aspect of the movie was how the Astronaut(Jodie Foster)"travelled" across the vast universe without ever leaving Earth. It's one of my favorite Sci-Fi movies, the original story was written by Carl Sagan. The message I sort of gleaned from the film was that we're going to have to merge technology with some(for lack of a better word) form of spirituality. I think we're really going to have to think out of the box on this.
Comment icon #15 Posted by rajeev shagun 10 years ago
"Ultimately a portable electromagnetic shield generator, something currently relegated to the realms of science fiction, may be needed before long term space travel can become a realistic possibility" the electromagnetic radiation itself will harm the astronauts if cosmic rays won't.
Comment icon #16 Posted by rajeev shagun 10 years ago
What about Mr James van Allen told some 55 years ago, we need 2 meters of shielding to protect human from the Van allen belts, cosmic radiations, solar flares etc.? and NASA covered the whole theory later on.
Comment icon #17 Posted by toast 10 years ago
The space station is nestled comfortably within the Earth's own protective shield, the Van Allen Belts. Yes and no, its a little bit more difficult: Spacecraft orbiting in the 'Safe Zone', between two and three Earth radii, can be subjected to high levels of harmful radiation as the radiation belts fluctuate in response to space weather events. Look :
Comment icon #18 Posted by Valdemar the Great 10 years ago
Well, what kind of a defeatist attitude is that? Good job they weren't as "risk averse" in the days of old, they'd never have made the effort to find out what was over that hill over there.
Comment icon #19 Posted by toast 10 years ago
And at least one nose just started to ruin itself again.
Comment icon #20 Posted by DieChecker 10 years ago
Well, if sending anyone is going to not be easy as falling off a log, I guess we better just not go. (Sarcasm)
Comment icon #21 Posted by Mr Supertypo 10 years ago
Not really a news, this has been known for ages. Frankly I dont thinks its a such big problem, there are theoretical solution, from magnetic shields to walls made of feces. So possible solutions to this problems have been found, now you need to find the best and most practical and experiment. Im more worried of the psychological issues of future astronauts in long term isolation in deep space, than a random beam of radiation coming out of nowhere.

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