"Space snuggie" could shield future astronauts from radiation

the first space snuggie??

University researchers have come up with a way to protect astronauts from one of spaces most troublesome threats - radiation. 

The "lunar textshield," developed by North Carolina State University students, is a sort of radiation snuggie or blanket made from a lightweight polymer material that has a layer of radiation shielding that deflects or absorbs the radiation so astronauts are only exposed to a safe amount.

The shield's skin includes a layer of solar cells to generate electricity, backed up by layers of radiation-absorbing materials, the researchers said. The advantages of the materials used in the design include flexibility, large surface area, ease of transportation, ease of construction and the ability to have multiple layers of independent functional fabrics.

Astronauts who previously traveled to the moon had little protection against radiation, but were only exposed to it for a short amount of time. NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 - and to potentially keep them there for several months at a time - could be stymied by space radiation.  The surface of the moon is exposed to cosmic rays and solar flares - making radiation hard to stop with shielding. When these rays hit matter, they produce a dangerous spray of secondary particles which, when penetrating human flesh, can damage DNA, boosting the risk of cancer and other health problems, the researchers stated.

NC State's radiation inhibiting blanket was reviewed by a panel of industry experts and chosen as one of 10 undergraduate abstract finalists in the Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition. Sponsored by NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace, the RASC-AL challenges university students to think about what sorts of conditions astronauts will face when returning to the moon, then design projects that might become part of actual lunar exploration. Teams receive $5875.00 to help with expenses.

 The final verdict on the blanket will come at the 2009 RASC-AL Forum held June 1-3 in Cocoa Beach, Fla. The project will be judged by a steering committee made up of experts from NASA, industry and universities.

"We had many factors to consider in developing this outpost cover - not just being able to protect against radiation," said one of the developers, Michael Sieber . "The product needed to be as lightweight as possible to feasibly fit on the transportation module, and have the ability to be easily erected by a minimum number of astronauts for immediate use once landing on the moon."

Of course the next generation of astronauts will likely need more than a blanket to protect them from the perils of space travel. With all the junk up there a force field may be what needed.

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