For today’s blog I am going to put on my Science Fiction writer hat. I am in the middle of writing the third book in my “SETI Anthology”, so maybe it’s appropriate.
I just listened to a News Telecon from NASA, audio only with graphics, about the Mars Curiosity Rover radiation findings on its transit from Earth to Mars. The MSL was launched on November 26, 2011. Findings from the Radiation Assessment Detector located on top of the spacecraft but underneath the protective shroud as it journeyed to the Red Planet, were a bit unsettling.
The Radiation Assessment Detector for the Mars Science Laboratory monitors high-energy atomic and subatomic particles from the sun.
The three scientific investigators on heard in todays audio Teleconference spoke in somewhat arcane and scientific terms about the findings with an occasional break into understandable language that came up with the following conclusions: Radiation bombarding the astronauts inside a space vehicle on its way to Mars would be dangerous, high and could cause cancer and death. Well, there goes the manned mission to Mars. However, new spacecraft design, not yet complete, with a surrounding jacket of water included around the outer layers of protection for the space vehicle, could mitigate that danger. Theory being, water, which contains large amounts of hydrogen, is a wonderful insulator against radiation. Layers of other shielding beneath that plus food storage, also containing water, could then make the trip to the fourth planet from the Sun, feasible.
The transit radiation danger to astronauts on their way to Mars is not a new revelation. Scientists have known about it for some time. What the RAD device has done is provide additional in-transit and hard data that this danger does exist. Once on Mars, the radiation is less because the planet blocks radiation to a certain percentage. But there is no Van Allen Radiation belt that protects the red planet like we have here on Earth.
I guess my point here is that there is a long way to go before these challenges to a Mars Mission are overcome. You have, of course, everything else that could happen…illness or injury to astronauts in transit, micrometeorites, equipment malfunction (toilet stops up?), sudden emotional stress or insanity, love triangles and on and on. These guys and gals will be locked up in a bus-sized space vehicle for six months. Lotsa research and testing going on now to accomplish the task, but we are still not there.
Now if someone could crack the propulsion limitations so we could travel faster and get there sooner, then many of these issues go away. You travel there in 30-60 days, let’s say. You land and there is a treasure trove of pre-positioned supplies sent earlier in the mission and waiting for you. It is possible; it’s just a matter of figuring it out.
But there’s not much you can say when an astronaut suddenly looks up from his freeze dried tuna fish casserole and says…”Are we there yet?” Not quite. We have a ways to go.