November 21, 2013
The Hazards Of Traveling To Mars
We’ve been bringing you a number of items recently about a potential manned trip to Mars (check out the podcast and video here and here) and there are a number of well-documented challenges that NASA must over come if we are to make such a mission a reality. But perhaps the greatest danger facing astronauts is the radiation that they would be exposed to as they hurtled across the solar system.
Humans are exposed to radiation all the time, we are bathed in optical, infrared, and even ultraviolet light from the Sun. Cosmic rays from distance supernovae penetrate our body, while the decay of Earth-born elements eject neutrons and alpha particles into the air. Yet, the total expose from all of these sources is small; in only rare cases – such as those employed in certain hazardous fields – need to keep a watchful eye.
However, a trip through the solar system would send humans through the blanket of gas above Earth’s surface, and beyond the protective shield of our geo-magnetic field. Out here, in outer space, there is no natural protection for biological forms. So scientists need to be careful and clever in how they design the spacecraft and space suits that will carry beings of Earth to the Red Planet.
The first step, then, in solving this problem is getting a proper grasp of exactly what the radiation danger looks like. However, as Harlan Spence from University of New Hampshire’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS), explains, “Until now, people have not had the ‘eyes’ necessary to see this particular population of particles. With CRaTER, we just happen to have the right focus to make these discoveries.”
The Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) radiation detector has finally quantified the radiation levels that passengers to other worlds might experience. “These data are a fundamental reference for the radiation hazards in near Earth ‘geospace’ out to Mars and other regions of our sun’s vast heliosphere,” says CRaTER principal investigator Nathan Schwadron of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS).
For the full story, check out this piece from redOrbit reporter April Flowers.