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.

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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.



  • Edward

    This is good news. I think that many of us are worried about the crew for Dennis Tito’s proposed manned flyby of Mars, set for 2018. Although radiation exposure is only one risk to that mission, it is a commonly discussed risk. It sounds as though cancer is not such a certainty, after all, for the returning crew.

    “The danger of radiation damage during the flight would suggest that a man and a woman who are past reproductive age would be preferable.”

    And, of course, future generations should find space travel much safer than we have imagined these past few decades.

  • Pzatchok

    I find it odd that the typical excuse was proffered.

    ‘That using any layered composite material would add to much weight to the craft.’

    That is OLD OLD NASA engineer speak for ‘we do not want to construct the craft in space and use multiple launches to do it.’
    They are still thinking along the lines of one or two launches and just docking any parts together.

    Also the idea of sending people without a landing is short sighted also. It does nothing that a robot couldn’t do far cheaper and safer.

    If you go through the effort of sending people then they have to have the ability to land and return. And if they do that then give them the ability to spend a year on the planet and conduct research the whole time.

    But thinking about it further why send people at all unless your willing to make a permanent base? At that distance anything less is a waste of time and effort for little return.

    A Moon base for helium 3 mining. But what do we need from Mars? Nothing that would make it worth while. Except as a second human settlement to ensure our species survival.

  • Edward


    Your comments are well taken. I, too, think that a Dennis Tito-type flyby, rather than a landing, is mostly a waste. On hearing about it, my first thought was the same as yours: ‘why go all that way without stepping on the surface?’ However, it is private money and a private organization, so they get to do as they wish; it is still a free country. They also probably could not fund, at this point, what it would take to land on and return from Mars, so they are limited in mission choice.

    The scientific possibilities are limited, so the only advantages that I see are 1) commercial manned space is forced to be ready in time; 2) promotion of a space travel that is independent of big government programs; and 3) getting people excited about space once again, much as we were during (and after) Apollo. These are noble goals and would be achieved if the travelers come back safely.

    Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick gave us the promise of a space odyssey that failed to come true. It seems that the American public is now determined to bring us that promised odyssey. Just the serious talk of commercial manned space has started getting me excited, again, about my chosen career. I feel that my career has been wasted all these years, and I yearn to get involved with one of these upstart startup “new space” companies.

    I agree, there is not as much imagination (or is it risk tolerance?) at NASA as there was when Lunar Orbit Rendezvous was chosen as a way to reach the moon.

  • Gee, the way you describe Tito’s fly-by mission of Mars I am reminded of the Apollo 8 mission to the moon. And when put that way, Tito’s mission suddenly becomes far more exciting to me as well. If it flies it would have a chance of influencing our culture and human history in a manner that would make any of its scientific discoveries pale in comparison.

  • Edward

    Apparently I waxed too poetic. When you put it that way, I guess I will have to update my thinking that it is mostly a waste. Maybe science and commerce are not all that there are, and social acceptance of space travel and personal choices in the use of one’s resources are also considerations.

    Peter Diamandis (one of my heroes) put up $10 million that he didn’t have in order to do just that, and I didn’t think that was wasted money (donated by Ansari) – or effort on the parts of his X Prize competitors.

    This was a good conversation. Thank you.

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