The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), shown here in an artist's conception, is currently orbiting the moon, carrying an instrument that's shown plastic can help protect astronauts from cosmic radiation. That instrument, the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER), can be seen at the bottom left corner of the spacecraft. (Source: Chris Meaney/NASA)
As a kid, and as an adult, I loved and love science fiction. I think it had a lot to do with me becoming an engineer.
But I was always troubled by the scientific inconsistencies.
One book had a moon landing using parachutes. I knew better than that as a 10 year old. And there are many more issues raised.
But the radiation thing has bothered me a lot. I am a big fan of a trip to Mars, but I don't want corpses arriving there or here. It should not be a suicide mission, although I suspect there would still be plenty of volunteers!
The shielding issue is major. Not only is the "Moon a harsh mistress" but all of "empty" space is a dangerous mine field. Good luck solving all those problems!
Warren, I am not sure it is as bad as you think. As you get further out from the source the density of the radiation decreases. Exploration further from the sun should be safer, assuming that the sun is the main source of the radiation. We have had astronaughts in space for some time now and the ISS allows us to have people in orbit for longer periods of time. Shielding is important, but it's need should not deter us.
The main source of radiation in space that we must protect astronauts against is cosmic rays, specifically galactic cosmic rays (GCR). As we mention in the article, these are far more damaging to humans than any radiation we experience on Earth, from any source. The lack of enough protection for astronauts on extended voyages is often mentioned as one of the main reasons we haven't sent people to Mars yet.
Thanks, Cadman-LT. The only other factor I've seen mentioned with similar frequency by NASA as keeping us from traveling farther (i.e., for longer periods) in space is the insanely high cost of fuel. That second one is cited as a reason for developing both robots and 3D printing for use in space.
So it's just as bad as the fuel. Which is why they are coming up with all of these new propulsion systems. Maybe they can get them there with propulsion, but if they are dead from radiation, doesn't do much good. Thanks Ann.
You're right, of course about also working on new propulsion systems to help solve the fuel issue. As well as the composite fuel tank we wrote about here that both weigh less and disintegrate on re-entry, so require less fuel on return: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=263520
Ann, you are absolutely correct main issue in space is cosmic rays which penetrates inside the tissues and cells of our astronauts and causes damages to them in terms of health issues causing skin cancer being the least issue. Its great that researchers have invented plastic as a major protection against cosmic rays, plastic can act as a strong wall between cosmic rays and asttonauts. In short now are astronauts can work safely and find new inventions on the space without keeping in mind their health issues .
Debra how thick of a plastic would be required to reduce, minimize cosmic ray exposure? I am sure someone has looked at the physics behind how thermo-plastic reduces exposure? And what is the duration of the outer skin before it becomes compromised? The overall protection of all systems on a space station will thermo-plastic be able to act as a protective barrier for the complete space craft?
Ces2m5 , you are correct there might be some physics behind how plastic protects astronauts from cosmic rays unfortunately i donno the entire process neither i have ever come accross to it . But once i read that 5cm thick plastic scintillators at the surface and at the depth of 25m.w was enough but accordong to my knowledge the thickness of plastic depends upon the intensity of the cosmic rays very large intensity cosmic rays cannot be protect by just 5cm thick plastic shield .
Thanks Debra. I am curious as to the density of the plastic scintillation would impact on its mass density. To cover a surface area of more than 3500sqft would impose weight restriction or the installation would take time and the material's exposure all the while would reduce its integrity. that would be another space time matter and event, wouldn't you think?
This is the reason I am suggesting a water ice solution. it can be grown fairly easily and perhaps the combination of the two would make it ideal, as the water turns to ice. Vaporization of water between plastic layers until the density of the waster or the volume is met.
Nadine, first there is a matter of determining the cause of water filling or leaking into a space helmet. Since it [helmet] was made in Russia we may never know the root cause; faulty connection or a connection not correctly made, pre-existing condition related to a cause and affect not foreseen. So let's not jump to conclusions on the helmet mishap.
However, the topic of discussion was how to use a thermo-plastic as an outer skin cladded with aluminum to prevent cosmic bombardment of space crafts thereby protecting the health of astronauts or humans in space within these space craft or vessels. Past research it was found that cosmic radiation would put micro-holes in exposed space craft skin, Aluminum. The cosmic radiation is high energy particles/matter from the Sun and the ionisphere that has high energy particles moving at light and sublight speeds fast enough to create spiked holes in the outter skin of the space craft [space station,shuttle etc., passing intothe spaces where humans are living. This exposes the human body to cosmic radiation that directly affect human tissue causing it to become cancerous.
@Ces2m5 - thanks for the information. From my understanding the source of the leak is still unknown and it hasn't been determined that it came from the helmet. But, the most likely source is the cooling system that runs throughout the suit.
My question came to mind as I read greg's comments. It seems right to put it out there to continue the overall conversation.
naperlou, I think you are wrong. Further from the Sun, really. I just don't buy that. Cosmic raditaion is out there, everywhere in space. Shielding is not just important, it is a necessity for people to survive long periods of time in space. You are assuming that all of the radiation comes from the Sun however, which I believe to be false(and is). Those people who are brave enough to stay in space for those periods of time know the consequences. Everything that can be done to minimalize that exposure to radiation should be done.
Cadman-LT, what did you mean about "watching every single episode of everything having to do with space on the science channel would never come in handy."? I love reading and watching anything about space. And like Warren I love reading sci-fi (and watching movies) and did so as a kid, too.
Warren, I agree. It has always been at the top of the list of problems facing astronauts as much as I can recall. Having to hide in case of a solar flare, etc. They need protection if they ever want to make it to Mars. The old astronauts used to say when they closed their eyes they saw little sparks of light....radiation. Not good. This is a step in the right direction to protecting those brave enough to go out there. naperlou, the case I metioned earlier where they had to hide from a solar flare...if I recall correctly was on the ISS.
Ann, in your second paragraph (and also on your second slide), I think you mean to say that the tissue-equivalent plastic has the same opacity to photons and neutrons of a wide range of energies that human tissue does -- not that it "simulates the photons and neutrons [...] found in soft body human tissues."
From what I understand, originally, the point of the experiment was just to measure how much radiation astronauts would be exposed to; that's why making the plastic similar in opacity to human tissue was important. But since the material does a good job at blocking radiation, it (or something similar) could be used for shielding.
Dave, you're right about the point of the experiment. But the material was, in fact, invented for a different purpose as we state in the article. That description is taken from the company's website, at the link we give.
Ces2m5, I didn't get the impression that this material is flexible or will be used as a skin covering. It could be used as part of a spaceship's or a building's outer shell to shield people from radiation. But that's not what it was designed for, and this is more a proof-of-concept experiment at this stage. Solving the radiation protection problem would definitely make it easier for humans to spend more time in space, and go farther.
Okay, I understand; this is used for preventing micro and submicro holes from being formed in the skin of current space craft designs or space stations. As a result the life expectancy of a space vessel will be prolonged bby this plastic. What is the duration of the skin's life before it starts breaking down or is it self healing?
@Ces2m5: The material doesn't prevent holes from forming; it absorbs cosmic rays. It could be used as a barrier around a spacecraft to keep the astronauts inside from being harmed by dangerous radiation.
Thank you for your response. Article(s) out of physics journal had shown and described micro holes in the skin of the Apollo space craft(s) believed to be caused by high energy particles in a zero atmosphere/gravity environment. As a result it could have been one of the causes for the Appollo 13 incident. These micro holes are not present prior to a 'space shot'. The holes are small and in varying sizes that are not noticeable by the eye without assistance. The reason the holes are not formed from natural deterioration is because the holes that resulted show up under an electron microscope as spikes tha have entry and exit points that resulted in the spikes. To prevent the spikes the use of a thermal plastic creates a barrier that either slows some particles depending on the thickness of the skin, is this the assumption? Longevity in space where the environment is not friendly and at some point will cause enough damage to a vessel over time that will impact on an astronaut survivability in long distance space travel; Mars and Jupiter. The LEO of any space craft or satellite endures a lot of the high energy particles that impact on electronics and platform integrity. Neutron particles are more likely not to be impacted by the plastic due to its speed and characteristics. Whether the plastic is impacted by the neutrons is another question. Please comment on my assessment.
Cosmic rays or radiation is the emission of thermal nuclear energy made up of high energy matter that can damage/deteriorate fabricated materials used for space applications. Water in the form of ice can performe the same function as the plastic with greater longevity and can be collected from various planets or cosmic bodies. Please comment.
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A fun and informative tour you can attend at the upcoming Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis, MD&M Minneapolis, and other events there, is the Materials Innovation Tour on Wednesday afternoon. I'll be leading it.
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