Protecting astronauts from radiation

One of the main arguments for not sending humans to Mars yet is the dangers of interplanetary radiation. Luckily the Earth’s magnetic field protects us and low orbit astronauts from solar radiation, but unfortunately en route to Mars we lose this natural protection.

Metal is not very good at protecting from radiation, so some engineers have suggested surrounding living quarters (or at least one emergency room for high intensity events) with water which is much more effective at blocking radiation. Dr Robert Zubrin has even proposed surrounding a room with a certain human waste product produced mid-flight that happens to contain a high percentage of water. Might as well use it if it’s there! With this level of shielding, the total radiation exposure is expected to be low enough that a 6 months journey would give you a lower increased risk of cancer than regularly smoking.

CERN scientists are producing an experimental magnetic shield technology utilising the same superconducting coils used in the Large Hadron Collider (click here for the full article on IFLS). The end effect would be to deflect incoming particles in a way similar to the Earth’s magnetic field. While this technology has some way to go before being placed on a spaceship, the existence of the above combination of technologies and techniques should by now be sufficient to put to rest at least this one fear of sending humans to Mars.

Until next time.

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