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NASA, InnoCentive Seek to Reduce Radiation Exposure on Deep Space Missions

Posted November 21, 2014

NASA is looking to the public for innovative ways to help mitigate radiation exposure on deep space missions, a critical issue scientists and engineers must solve before astronauts travel to Mars.

One of the major human health issues facing future space travelers venturing beyond low-Earth orbit is the hazardous effects of Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCRs). Exposure to GCRs, immensely high-energy radiation that mainly originates outside the solar system, now limits mission duration to about 150 days while a mission to Mars would take approximately 500 days. These charged particles permeate the universe, and exposure to them is inevitable during space exploration.

An artist's concept of the heliosphere, a magnetic bubble that partially protects the solar system from cosmic rays. Image Credit: Walt Feimer/NASA GSFC's Conceptual Image Lab

An artist’s concept of the heliosphere, a magnetic bubble that partially protects the solar system from cosmic rays. Image Credit: Walt Feimer/NASA GSFC’s Conceptual Image Lab

NASA, through the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI) at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, is teaming with InnoCentive Inc. to offer the public the opportunity to find solutions to this difficult issue. The agency is seeking to identify key solutions that will reduce crew members’ exposure to GCRs on long deep space missions by at least a factor of four.

This InnoCentive Ideation Challenge offers a guaranteed award of $12,000, with at least one award being no less than $5,000 and no award being less than $1,000. The challenge is open until Dec. 12.

Although they are of relatively low intensity, these particles can be of very high energy. Long-duration exposure to GCRs will exceed allowable career radiation exposure risk limits during any meaningful deep space mission. Protection is needed to allow for safe and successful human missions such as going to Mars.

The initial test flight of Orion, scheduled for this December, will have instrumentation to measure the radiation environment inside the new exploration spacecraft. The test will send an uncrewed Orion beyond the radiation protection offered by Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. Most of Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) will take place inside the Van Allen Belts, clouds of radiation that surround Earth. No spacecraft built for humans has passed through the Van Allen Belts since the Apollo missions, and even those only passed through the belts – they didn’t linger.

Future crews don’t plan to spend more time than necessary inside the Van Allen Belts, but long missions to deep space will expose them to more radiation than astronauts have ever dealt with before. Orion’s travel through the Van Allen Belts during the flight test offers a unique opportunity to see how the spacecraft will perform in this region. Sensors will record the peak radiation as well as radiation levels throughout the flight, which can be mapped to hot spots.

To participate in the challenge, visit here.

Source: NASA

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