• Question: Will cosmic radiation be a problem for travelers attempting to travel to other planets? What are some of it's known affects?

    Asked by Anon to Kevin, Katie, Jon, Jean-François, Floris, Claudie, Beth on 7 Jan 2016.
    • Photo: Katie Hassell

      Katie Hassell answered on 7 Jan 2016:

      Cosmic radiation is usually in gamma ray wavelength, for us on Earth, our atmosphere filters and scatters a lot of the energy and our magnetic field redirects it. For the stuff that gets through, for the most part, it just passes straight through us and doesn’t cause us any problems.
      In space, there isn’t any atmosphere and there’s very little magnetic field, so we don’t have any natural filtering effects. Our spacecraft sometimes get damaged by the radiation – what happens is that some of the gamma rays scramble the electric signals, which either ends up electrically burning something, or scrambles the code that the satellite needs to work. What we can do is put in place markers, so that if something isn’t working right, we know about it and can then work out some new code and resend that. If something is electrically burnt though, we have to work out a way of doing the same thing without that part – we can’t fix things in space.
      For humans – I don’t really know what the effects could be, but if it’s a problem for spacecraft, you can bet it’ll be a problem for us! Hopefully you might be able to come up with some ideas of what the damage might be based on what happens to spacecraft.

    • Photo: Claudie Haignere

      Claudie Haignere answered on 25 Jan 2016:

      Leaving the protection of the Van Allen belts, for deep-space missions, the effects of ionising radiation are a true medical problem for a human mission to Mars: difficult to protect against, difficult to prevent, with cumulative effects, such as chromosome damage and other unknown effects. There is still a lot of research to be done.