WASHINGTON — Humans should safely travel to and from Mars, provided that the spacecraft has sufficient shielding and the round trip is shorter than approximately four years, found the space scientists and researchers.
“Space radiation is one of the main concerns in planning long-term human space missions,” states the report.
“There are two main types of hazardous radiation: Solar Energetic Particles (SEP) and Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR). The intensity and evolution of both depend on solar activity.”
Sending human travelers to Mars would require scientists and engineers to overcome a range of technological and safety obstacles.
One of them is the grave risk posed by particle radiation from the sun, distant stars, and galaxies.
Answering two key questions would go a long way toward overcoming that hurdle: Would particle radiation pose too grave a threat to human life throughout a round trip to the red planet? And, could the very timing of a mission to Mars help shield astronauts and the spacecraft from the radiation?
An international team of space scientists, including researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, answers those two questions with a “no” and a “yes.”
That is, humans should be able to safely travel to and from Mars, provided that the spacecraft has sufficient shielding and the round trip is shorter than approximately four years.
And the timing of a human mission to Mars would indeed make a difference. The scientists determined that the best time for a flight to leave Earth would be when solar activity is at its peak, known as the solar maximum.
The scientists’ calculations demonstrate that it would be possible to shield a Mars-bound spacecraft from energetic particles from the sun. The enhanced solar activity deflected the most dangerous and energetic particles from distant galaxies during solar maximum.
A trip of that length would be conceivable. The average flight to Mars takes about nine months, so depending on the timing of launch and available fuel, it is plausible that a human mission could reach the planet and return to Earth in less than two years, as per Yuri Shprits, a University of California, Los Angeles research geophysicist and co-author of the paper.
“This study shows that while space radiation imposes strict limitations on how heavy the spacecraft can be and the time of launch, and it presents technological difficulties for human missions to Mars, such a mission is viable,” he said, who also is head of space physics and space weather at GFZ Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany.
The researchers recommend a mission not longer than four years because a long journey would expose astronauts to a dangerously high amount of radiation during the round trip — even assuming they went when it was relatively safer than at other times.
They also reported that the main danger to such a flight would be particles from outside our solar system.
Shprits and colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Moscow’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, and GFZ Potsdam combined geophysical models of particle radiation for a solar cycle with models for how radiation would affect both human passengers — including its varying effects on different bodily organs — and a spacecraft.
The modeling determined that having a spacecraft’s shell built out of a relatively thick material could help protect astronauts from radiation, but that if the shielding is too thick, it could actually increase the amount of secondary radiation to which they are exposed.
Galactic cosmic ray activity is lowest within the six to 12 months after the peak of solar activity, while solar energetic particles’ intensity is most incredible during solar maximum, Shprits said.
(With inputs from ANI)
Edited by Saptak Datta and Ritaban Misra
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