College Students Hatch Nuclear-Powered Magnetic Plan to Protect Marsonauts from Cosmic Rays

he voyage to Mars will expose astronauts to deadly levels of cosmic radiation. But a group of college students has a plan to shield spacecraft from radiation. (Image: © NASA/Viking 1)
A group of undergrad students is developing a magnetic shield to defend interplanetary astronauts from the intense cosmic radiation between Earth and Mars.

By Rafi Letzter |

The students, from Drake University in Iowa, presented their project in the poster session Saturday (April 13) at the April meeting of the American Physical Society. Their MISSFIT (Magneto-Ionization Spacecraft Shield for Interplanetary Travel) design uses a powerful magnetic shield that, like Earth’s magnetosphere, protects the planet from high-energy particles. The defense system also incorporates „passive“ shielding to mimic the ionosphere — Earth’s second layer of defense. [When Space Attacks: The 6 Craziest Meteor Impacts]

With help from a small NASA grant through the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, experiments are already underway on the passive shielding, which could protect astronauts from high-energy gamma-rays that a magnetic shield can’t stop. The hope, said Lorien MacEnulty, a junior at Drake and a member of the team, is to solve a key safety problem that’s delayed an eventual NASA mission to Mars: long-term exposure to interplanetary radiation.

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