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Students! NASA's Space Radiation Challenge Is On

This week, NASA launched an exploration design challenge asking K-12 students around the world to help protect astronauts and spacecraft hardware from the high levels of space radiation they will experience beyond Earth's protective magnetosphere.


(Artist's rendering of NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle)

"America's next step in human space exploration is an ambitious one and will require new technologies, including ways to keep our astronauts safe from the effects of deep-space radiation," NASA chief Charles Bolden said in a statement. "That is the focus of this challenge, and we are excited students will be helping us solve that problem."

Kids in elementary and middle school will recommend materials that could be used as astronaut-protecting shielding on NASA's Orion deep space capsule, which is currently in development. High schoolers will be tasked with actually designing shielding that protects an Orion sensor from space radiation; the winning design will ride to space on an Orion test flight in 2014, officials said.

The student challenge which is a joint effort involving NASA, aerospace firm Lockheed Martin and the National Institute of Aerospace aims to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math.

"Space exploration has inspired and fascinated young people for generations, and the Exploration Design Challenge is a unique way to capture and engage the imaginations of tomorrow's engineers and scientists," Lockheed Martin CEO and president Marillyn Hewson said in a statement.

Here's a suggestion from sf writer Arthur C. Clarke. His short story Summertime on Icarus was published in 1960; it describes a method for getting a research ship closer to the sun than ever before using a comet:

"Everything had been carefully planned, years in advance, as part of the International Astrophysical Decade. Here was a unique opportunity for a research ship to get within a mere seventeen million miles of the sun, protected from it's fury by a two-mile-thick shield of rock and iron. In the shadow of Icarus, the ship could ride safely round the central fire which warmed all the planets, and upon which the existence of all life depended."

And here's an idea for a radiation shield from John W. Campbell's 1936 story The Ultimate Weapon:

"You mean they bathed that ship in neutrons?"

"Shot it full of 'em. Just like our proton guns, only sending neutrons."

"Well, why weren't we killed too?"

"Water stops neutrons," Kendall said. "Figure it out."

"The rocket-water tanks - all around us... that saved us?"

Update 05-May-2021: See also this very early idea for shielding - the ozone radiation shield from A Daring Trip To Mars (1931) by Max Valier. End update.

Read more about NASA Launches Space Radiation Challenge for Students; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip.

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