How can we protect astronauts from radiation in space?

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Offline thedoc

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Thomas Parmenter asked the Naked Scientists:
Hi Scientists, fantastic show. I have a question.

One of the main dangers of sending humans to mars is that radiation. A lead shield that could adsorb the radiation would be too heavy and a magnetic strong enough is also infeasible at the moment. Could a smaller lead shield with a specific geometry (probably simpler to the walls in an anechoic chamber) be able to refract the harmful partials around the craft?

Also noting that anything that can pass through a dense slab of lead unaffected would most likely pass through the less dense stuff behind it.

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 25/09/2014 16:30:01 by _system »


Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can we protect astronauts from radiation in space?
« Reply #1 on: 25/09/2014 17:56:59 »
Not really a problem. The probable dose in a transit to Mars is around 2 - 300 millisievert accumulated over at least 6 months. This would be unacceptable for ordinary employment (where the legal maximum is 20 mSv/yr or 100 mSv in any period of 5 years)  but is negligible in comparison with the other risks of the trip, and is unlikely to produce any clinically significant effects if the crew are aged 50 or over. Emergency service workers can volunteer to receive this level of dose on a "once in a lifetime" mission, which this one certainly is. 

Once on Mars the trick is to stay underground or build a substantial dirt mound over your living quarters - not a problem as the electron density of the soil is pretty much the same as on earth, but it's a lot easier to shovel under 0.4 g than it is at home.   

The optimum mission to Mars is, I think, a one-way trip by a bunch of old fogeys like me who have nothing to fear from radiation (we'll probably die anyway - and most likely from a natural cancer - long before any radiogenic cancers express themselves), no reason to come home (widowed, children dispersed all over the globe, pension fund robbed by a corrupt government....), and a hell of a lot of scientific knowhow and cunning acquired over a lifetime of doing it. Once you remove the requirement for a return flight the outbound rocket becomes entirely practicable (in fact it could probably be done with existing equipment) and you can resupply the explorers at much less cost and risk than bringing us home.
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