Long term exposure to radiation is one of the biggest challenges in long-duration human spaceflights and NASA is now looking for what it called revolutionary technology that would help protect astronauts from the deadly matter.
According to NASA: "Current conventional radiation protection strategy based on materials shielding alone, referred to as passive radiation shielding, is maturing (has been worked on for about three decades) and any progress using the materials radiation shielding would only be evolutionary (incremental) at best. Material shielding would have only limited or no potential for avoiding continuous exposure to radiation. In addition, current material shielding alone for radiation protection for long duration/deep space safe human space missions is prohibitive due to pay load and cost penalties and is not a viable option."
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What NASA says it is looking for rather is what it calls "Active radiation shielding" technology that it says could include confined and unconfined magnetic fields requiring super-conducting magnets, plasma shields, and electrostatic shields.
From NASA: "The biggest advantage of active electrostatic radiation shielding is that by preventing ions from hitting the spacecraft, the unknown harmful biological effects of continuous long duration exposure to space radiation is significantly reduced for galactic cosmic rays and for solar particle events, of great concern for radiation exposure, it is practically eliminated. It is believed that the best strategy for radiation protection and shielding for long duration human missions is to use electrostatic active radiation shielding while, in concert, taking the full advantage of the state-of-the-art evolutionary passive (material) shielding technologies for the much reduced and weaken radiation that may escape and hit the spacecraft. "
NASA says the research it expects to see from partners will yield applications such as radiation protection and shielding, radiation dose exposures, sensors and medical applications.
Radiation mitigation is part of NASA's list of Grand Challenges. From NASA Grand Challenges site: "Space is an extreme environment that is not conducive to human life. Today's technology can only partially mitigate the effects on the physical and psychological well-being of people. In order to live and effectively work in space for an extended period of time, people require technologies that enable survival in extreme environments; countermeasures that mitigate the negative effects of space; accommodations that optimize human performance; comprehensive space-based physiological and physical health management and prompt and comprehensive medical care in a limited infrastructure."
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