A Moment of Science

The Colonization Conundrum

You want to build a spaceship that can travel from Earth to the newly established colony on Mars, but there's no way a human crew can survive the trip.

Mars & Phobos

Photo: TopTechWriter.US (Flickr)

A look at Mars and Phobos from space.

Here’s the scenario: you want to build a spaceship that can travel from Earth to the newly established colony on Mars, but there’s no way a human crew can survive the trip.

Why?

Well, cosmic rays will be constantly coming through the walls, making them sick. A single powerful radiation storm could wipe out your entire crew. Actually, the same goes for the Mars colony itself. You need some kind of shielding to block the radiation before it can harm people. What to do?

You could build a huge lead barrier, but in order to be thick enough the shield would weigh an enormous amount, making it difficult to get into space in the first place. Not to mention, the lead itself will eventually become radioactive, so may that’s not the best idea.

Here’s a better one, do it the way Earth does it.

Earth is bombarded by dangerous types of solar radiation all the time, but almost all of it is deflected by our planet’s magnetic field, called the “magnetosphere.” If your ship could generate its own mini-magnetosphere, harmful radiation could be shunted away naturally.

This is the idea, anyway, of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, England. Researchers there are teaming up right now with scientists who work on fusion reactors to build something that may one day function like those invisible shields every spaceship has in Star Trek. If it works, we will be one step closer to space travel and even space colonization.

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