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Data collected by a radiation sensor inside Curiosity during its journey to Mars suggest that it will be possible to build ships with sufficient shielding to protect humans on such a voyage.
Zeitlin and his colleagues analysed the radiation recorded by a small detector on board the craft that was active during most of the 253-day cruise to Mars. Although the craft was not uniformly protected from exposure to Galactic cosmic rays and charged particles from the Sun, the MSL’s shielding on average approximated that of human space-flight missions. ….
At NASA Langley, Thibeault and her colleagues are testing new types of shielding that consist of hydrogenated materials. Hydrogen offers protection because it breaks apart heavy charged particles without creating secondary particles that add to the radiation dose, she notes. One of the materials under investigation, hydrogen-filled boron nitride nanotubes, looks particularly promising because it is robust and lightweight enough to double as both the skin of a spacecraft and its shield. Using separate materials to build and shield a craft would add too much weight to a Mars-bound mission, Thibeault notes.
Thibeault says that she is heartened by the new study because she had feared that the radiation dose might be considerably higher. The results suggest “that this is a problem we can solve”, she adds.