PARIS: Scientists believe they have found a way of protecting astronauts from a dangerous source of space radiation, thus lifting a major doubt clouding the dream to send humans to Mars.
Their breakthrough takes forward ideas born in the golden age of science fiction, including a proton shield used in 'Star Trek', says one of the researchers. Space weather is one of the greatest challenges facing Mission Red Planet sketched by the United States and Europe for some three decades from now.
Even the shortest round trip - the distance between the two planets varies between 55 million and more than 400 million kms - would take at least 18 months.
During this time, the crew would be exposed to sub-atomic particles that whizz through space, capable of slicing through DNA like a hot knife through butter and boosting the risk of cancer and other disorders.
British and Portuguese scientists have taken a fresh look at this old concept and say the magnetic field does not, in fact, have to be huge - just a "bubble" a few hundred metres across would suffice.
"The idea is really like in 'Star Trek', when Scottie turns on a shield to protect the starship Enterprise from proton beams - it's almost identical really," Bob Bingham of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford said.
As a result, the researchers have been able to devise a smarter, miniaturised model of magnetic protection rather than the blunderbuss-style field generator that was envisaged in the past. Its full details are secret, as patents are being sought
6 months ago