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Deflector Shield to Maximum! May 21, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General.
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Radiation in Space, Image credit: J.W.Wilson

Radiation in Space, Image credit: J.W.Wilson

Star Trek was way ahead of its time. Someone was always messing with the shields because the crew was at risk. The reality of space is that it is not only a hard vacuum, but it has some very nasty particles (ionizing radiation) zipping around that our bodies do not deal with well. Any crew traveling through such a field of particle is at risk as well. NASA has yet to come to grips with addressing this potential life threatening events that can randomly occur during a journey through space. Low earth orbit (LEO) affords some level of protection due to the effects of the powerful magnetic field that envelopes the earth that deflects particles away, but only up to a certain level. Even the ISS, which is in LEO has a “safe room” for when the sun sends a bust of space weather heading toward earth. It is not widely known but the Apollo astronauts barely missed a major solar mass coronal ejection (MCE) in the months between the Apollo 16 & 17 missions. Had they been in space, or on the moon at that time there could have been very serious consequences to the crew and spacecraft hardware by a shower of high energy particles and little or no shielding to protect them. Traveling to Mars or chasing an asteroid means a crew will be out of the influence of earths field and its protection. This exposes them to a MCEs, as well as very high energy galactic cosmic rays (see chart) with little shielding available that is light enough to transport into space.

Fortunately others have worked on a solution to shielding the astronauts on such a journey as well as a method to create artificial gravity so our crew will not be rubber legged after floating around for nine (yes that’s nine) months on the way to Mars. The protection scheme is two fold. For radiation protection a group of physicists and engineers have come up with a novel solution, based partly on work done in high energy physics for the attempt to create a fusion reactor. The fusion people are using high intensity magnetic fields to steer & plasma (sun surface temperatures) away from the walls of the reactor so they wont melt. This same technology of superconducting magnets to create a powerful field is suggested for crew protection in deep space. That is because, while you can’t shield against these high energy particles with anything light enough, you can redirect them around the spacecraft & crew with a strong field. This is eloquently described in a paper with more math than my little head can handle, but the net result is it will work and within a reasonable power budget.

They also show is a concept of spinning the spacecraft to generate a artificial gravity for the crew. As a package this makes more sense that anything I have seen out of NASA for crew protection and well being. If I were going to Mars I would put my trust in this concept.

Shielded Spacecraft - Image Credit: R.A. Bamford et al

Shielded Spacecraft – Image Credit: R.A. Bamford et al

Zero “g” is fun – for a while. April 11, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Watching the astronauts float around the ISS is intriguing. It looks like fun, and everyone who has been in space says it is. The only problem is the long term affects micro gravity has on the human body. Now imagine floating around for six months on your way to Mars. That’s where fun ends and pain begins. Once on the surface you are back in a gravity environment which takes time to re-adapt. This is precious time you could be exploring at 100% capacity, not slugging along dragging your butt to the next task. Months of zero g leads to a host of issues like loss of calcium in the bones and other maladies, some which are reversible, others are not. This is in spite of rigorousness exercise on state of the art space workout equipment on board the station.

NASA is looking at a very old artificial gravity concept. This idea dates back to at least the 1950’s.  The current project is called Nautilus-X or AG ISS, a rotating torus that will be attached to the ISS to test the concept of rotating the cabin to produce a partial gravity environment for sleep & work. It makes a lot of sense and is one possible answer to improved health on long duration space flights. They are also considering a spacecraft based on this same concept.

Now they are finally coming around to the rotating space stations like the marvelous one in the movie 2001 a Space Odyssey. (Well sort of) Aesthetically the ISS is a kludge by any standard. It looks like a train wreck with gym equipment stuck to it and inside; humans bouncing off the walls in a micro-gravity environment. Let’s hope the torus idea catches on and we give our astronauts a healthier and safer way to explore the solar system.

(See NASA Technology applications paper)