NASA is quite serious about sending humans to Mars, but right now they need your help. One of the main problem NASA is facing right now is radiation. Only, radiation is made up of harmless energetic, subatomic particles, but when they make contact with living cells, the outcome can be lethal. The higher a particle's energy, the more deadly it becomes. And deep space is jam-packed with several of the highest-energy particles around, called Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR). That's obviously not a good news for astronauts on a journey to the Red Planet, which is why NASA is proposing up to $29,000 to anybody who can work out a way to get astronauts in one piece to Mars with as slight exposure to space radiation as possible. Astronauts floating on the International Space Station are sheltered from GCRs by Earth's magnetic field. Unluckily, this protective coating only ranges out to about 27,000 miles above the surface of the Earth. Mars is approximately 140 million miles farther.
|A view of Earth from the cupola on the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station. Image Credit: Reuters/NASA|
NASA declared its test, called the "Reducing Exposure toGalactic Cosmic Rays through Active and Passive Shielding," on April 29, and it's open to everyone. Simply register with the crowd sourcing firm InnoCentive and send a printed suggestion before June 29. In their explanation of the challenge, NASA describes that "a persistent disclosure rate ... can lead to undesirable cancer risk for deep space operations lasting 150 days or more." With today's equipment, it would take a crew roughly eight months, or 243 days, to touch Mars — and that's just one way. Another part of the problem is that there's quite incomplete data on how much space radiation is too much. Only NASA's Apollo astronauts have ever attempted to go outside of Earth's magnetic field, and they were only gone for days, not exactly months. Researchers, however, suspect that long-term contact with space radiation will increase astronauts' risk of evolving cancer and can also lead to cardiovascular system, eye, and central nervous system loss, which definitely is not a good thing.
In a fresh study, researchers blasted live mouse brains with high-energy radiation similar to GCR. The results comprised brain inflammation, which suggestively slowed down some of the mice's cognitive functions, comprising their skill to learn and remember definite tasks. Scary stuff!
Since 2008, more than 40 researchers at institutions across the country have been investigating what space radiation does to the human body and how to lessen those deadly effects. NASA has an ongoing chain of crowdfunded jobs through InnoCentive. So put your head to the test and see what you can come up with. It might just pay off in a big way.