For the first time in history, human exploration of Mars has been declared of NASA’s official goal. President Trump even signed a bill to increase the space agency’s spending budget to $19.5 billion for a 12 month period starting October 1, 2017. For years, NASA inspired millions to imagine a better future on planet worth and civilizations in distant worlds, and it might just be time to work on making that dream a reality.
NASA hopes to send people to Mars by the 2030s as it continues to work with private companies to come up with new technologies that can help with this goal. The Elon Musk owned SpaceX has plans of its own to get to the red planet, and his company is planning to send an unmanned spaceship to Mars as early as 2018.
Can it be Done?
One of the biggest hindrances to the Mars program has been the issue of radiation. Present day radiation shielding materials aren’t capable of securing a trip to Mars. Moreover, the entire spacecraft needs to be built with materials that can protect the body from the effects of radiation as exposure could cause cancer, and even death.
Let’s take the example of earth. It would take several meters of thick concrete or lead to keep the body safe from a nuclear disaster. And having to fall back on lead, one of the most dangerous metals that the human body can be exposed to, is saying something. It’s pretty much the same in deep space.
Since the thin atmosphere of Mars won’t be able to offer protection to people who live there, offering lead free shielding and radiation shielding materials is one of the most critical aspects of colonizing space.
Working on a Solution
Experts have been working on several radiation shielding methods to protect astronauts in deep space. One of the proposed solutions is to wear the AstroRad Radiation Shield, a vest designed to offer the best possible radiation protection in deep space or in the event of a nuclear disaster. The vest protects vital human tissue and stem cells from radiation and might get its first test in 2018 when the Orian spacecraft makes its test journey to the moon.
Based on simulations, it is expected that the vest shall offer the same protection as a “shielded safe room” in the Orion. The vest has many small cells that are grouped together so that the device resembles a honeycomb. It is also known to be incredibly lightweight and flexible.
NASA has also been exploring other radiation shielding material concepts. One idea proposes to build a storm shelter inside the floor of the Orion spacecraft. Astronauts can hide in this shelter in the event of a solar flare, sudden bursts of energy from the sun’s surface. The agency is also working on drugs to work like antioxidants and fight the effects of radiation. The medicine could even work in reversing effects of radiation exposure from flares.