Radiation on Mars mission
I’m not a big fan of manned space exploration, at least not at this stage of technological development. For what we spend to keep the ISS spinning around in low-Earth orbit doing no science at all, we could send out an armada of robotic explorers and get some real science done. But, our president has set a priority of a moon base and a Mars mission, which would starve scientific missions of funding for decades to come.
So it’s with mixed feelings I see that radiation may render a Mars mission difficult to survive. Do you ‘spoze this practical difficulty will make our policy makers see a bit of reason and plan for Mars missions a century from now, after expected advances in materials science and propulsion? Or will they just try to build bigger rockets to launch huge slabs of radiation-shielding lead into space?
Unfortunately a much more detailed Scientific American article on the radiation hazard is “subscribers only” but there’s good overview on the SciAm Blog. Upshot? Forget EM shielding, expect cancer and cataracts, and, uh, astronomical costs if you try to carry tons of shielding. NASA’s Walter Schimmerling gives a .pdf overview of the subject that basically says “we’re studying it without trying to sound like we really don’t know what to do next”. At least, that’s my summary. Somewhere I read an article on lightweight polymer radiation shields but I’ll be darned if i can find it now.