News / Science & Technology

NASA: Shielding, New Propulsion Technologies Needed for Manned Mission to Mars

Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)
x
Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)
Artist’s rendition of astronauts on Mars. (NASA)
Suzanne Presto
The U.S. space agency is relying on findings from an ongoing, unmanned mission to Mars as it shapes plans for a human mission to that planet in the mid-2030s.

As NASA's Mars Science Laboratory sped toward the Red Planet in 2011 and 2012, an instrument called the Radiation Assessment Detector measured radiation levels that a space crew could experience during the long journey.   

New findings published in the journal Science indicate a trip to Mars could subject space travelers to more radiation than NASA allows. Longstanding research shows that exposure to radiation increases a person's risk of developing cancer.

Propulsion

Scientists say one way to reduce radiation exposure is to develop new propulsion technologies that would shorten the time it takes to get to Mars, thereby reducing the time a person is subjected to radiation in deep space.

NASA's deputy director of advanced exploration systems, Chris Moore, says engineers are working on advanced systems that could cut a one-way trip to Mars down from about 250 days to 180 days.

"To get really fast trip times and cut down on the radiation exposure, we would probably need nuclear thermal propulsion, and we're working with the U.S. Department of Energy now to look at various types of fuel elements for these rockets," said Moore. "But it's a long-range technology development activity, and it will probably be many years before that is ready."  

Moore emphasized that nuclear thermal propulsion is part of the current plan to get humans to Mars.   

Shielding

During the journey through deep space, astronauts would be exposed to two types of radiation that pose potential risks. Galactic cosmic rays are caused by supernova explosions and other high-energy events outside the solar system. Solar energetic particles are linked to solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun.

Eddie Semones, the space flight radiation health officer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, says this requires a two-pronged mitigation approach.

"We need to get there [to Mars] faster to reduce the impact of the galactic cosmic rays, but we need to have shielding, local shielding, on board to eliminate the effects of solar particle events, so it's hand-in-hand," he said.       

Semones says deployable shields are effective at reducing the effects of solar particle events because those events are low energy. But he says in order to reduce the effect of high-energy galactic cosmic rays, shields would have to be meters thick -- too thick for a spacecraft to launch successfully from Earth.

Looking to the Future

The Curiosity rover's Radiation Assessment Detector continued to take measurements after it landed on the Martian surface in August.

NASA says the medical community is using the radiation data to develop exposure limits for deep space explorers.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs