Radiation shields to protect astronauts

  • 03/07/2013

By 3 News online staff

Space agencies around the world have announced their intention to resume human exploration in space, and scientists are working on making it possible.

Challenges include how to feed astronauts for months on end, keeping them in good health, and protecting them from the sun's radiation.

Speaking on Firstline, Massey University biosciences lecturer Heather Hendrickson said bacteria grows much faster in space, which poses health-risks for astronauts.

 "They grow massive, thick, really strong bio-films, so for the health of astronauts as well as what's going to be growing on the space station, research on bacteria without gravity is important."

Dr Hendrickson said radiation from the sun also posed a threat to astronauts.

"Radiation is incredibly dangerous. We've been incredibly fortunate that the times when astronauts have been outside of any of the space stations, there haven't been big solar flare-ups, because that would be incredibly dangerous for them."

Work is underway to develop protective shields that will shelter space explorers from the damaging rays, much like those depicted in Star Trek.

"If you imagine the deflector shields from the old Star Trek space stations, and the Enterprise, this is like building the magnetosphere that's around the earth," said Dr Hendrickson.

"Building this around an object in space [means] radiation is deflected away."

Keeping food in space for long periods of time is also difficult, but 3D printers could provide a solution.

"With a 3D printer you could actually have the separate components of the food in separate nutrients, and those could be kept for up to 60 years," said Dr Hendrickson.

"The idea with the printing is that each of these different ingredients is actually extruded and bound to one another to make a 3D object."

A researcher in Texas has been awarded a grant of $US125,000 ($NZ161,000) to investigate food printing, and recently successfully printed a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

He is now working on printing a pizza.

3 News

source: newshub archive