Thursday, April 19, 2007

Radiation Protection In Space

Radiation is a major hazard for anyone venturing into space. The commonly proposed way to deal with space radiation (particularly for settlements on planetary surfaces such as Luna and Mars) is to either build underground or to use a very thick wall of regolith to shield the settlers. But when you are in outer space (in an orbital settlement or a traveling ship, for instance) such radiation shields will be massive, with significant costs for transport.

A blog entry at Colony Worlds describes this problem, and a possible solution, which is to use artificial magnetic fields for settlements. This idea is not new. Other than providing extremely fast transport through the solar system, the M2P2 drive is designed to shield the passengers of a space ship from radiation. Such an drive would give potential settlers much easier access to places such as the inner moons of Jupiter (Io and European in particular).

The idea seems to be catching on as scientists are about to test a new "deflector shield" which creates an artificial magnetic field to deflect harmful radiation.

Now scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire plan to mimic nature. They will build a miniature magnetosphere in a laboratory to see if a deflector shield can be used to protect humans living on space craft and in bases on the Moon or Mars.

In order to work, an artificial mini-magnetosphere on a space craft will need to utilise many cutting edge technologies, such as superconductors and the magnetic confinement techniques used in nuclear fusion.

Thus science is following science fiction once again. The writers of Star Trek realised that any space craft containing humans would need protection from the hazardous effects of cosmic radiation. They envisioned a 'deflector shield" spreading out from the Starship Enterprise that the radiation would bounce off. These experiments will help to establish whether this idea could one day become a practical reality.

Another option is the transhumanist one, which is to modify the human body itself to withstand radiation.


  1. Gliese 581 - a (probably) rocky planet has been found in orbit around this red dwarf, within it's green zone. It's possibly our first extrasolar earthlike planet to be discovered!

  2. That is very interesting news. I find it very remarkable just how much the space science has changed over the past 15 years. Back in 1992, I never would've imagined that we would have found dozens of extrasolar planets, or a new asteroid (Kuiper) belt. It has been really exciting to say the least.