One of the things that makes extended space travel to places like Mars a suicide mission is the sub-atomic particles that are encountered along the way. Eighteen months of exposure to the radiation of space is likely to leave travelers with some seriously affected DNA, placing them at a higher risk of cancer and other DNA-linked disorders – nasty. That may not be the case for too much longer if scientists from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford manage to turn their idea into reality.
The idea of the British and Portuguese scientists on the project looks like it comes right out of Star Trek, a magnetic protection devise that weighs only several hundred kilos and uses approximately a kilowatt of energy. According to Bob Bingham:
The idea is really like in ‘Star Trek’, when Scottie turns on a shield to protect the starship Enterprise from proton beams – it’s almost identical really.
Research from the 60s estimated that a magnetic field would have to be hundreds of kilometers across, which would have made the equipment far too heavy to take into space and potentially placed astronauts at other health risks. The simulation performed by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, however, estimates that a bubble of several hundred meters would suffice – which makes the technology feasible. At present patents are being sought and the “mini magnetosphere” is being marketed to both NASA and the European Space Agency.
So what are the alternatives? Without the shield it is estimated that a 40-year-old no-smoking man would have a 40% chance of developing cancer after he returned to Earth. He would also have a higher likelihood of developing cataracts. Neither option sounds like a lot of fun. [AFP via The Age] Image: Wikipedia