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Mars NASA Space Science

Mars-Bound Probe Serves As Radiation Guinea Pig 67

Posted by timothy
from the for-safe-delivery-of-your-gluteus-maximus dept.
sighted writes "This week's huge solar storm will benefit future astronauts, thanks to the rover Curiosity, now on its way to Mars. The rover is equipped with an instrument that measures the radiation exposure that could affect a human astronaut en route to the Red Planet. Scientists are just starting to pore over the data from the blast of particles. Don't worry about the poor robotic geologist, though: 'No harmful effects to the Mars Science Laboratory have been detected from this solar event,' says NASA."
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Mars-Bound Probe Serves As Radiation Guinea Pig

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  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Friday January 27, 2012 @08:22PM (#38846827)
    I hope no on tells PETA that NASA is irradiating a guinea pig with a probe.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I hope no on tells PETA that NASA is irradiating a guinea pig with a probe.

      No, the probe is a metaphorical Guinea Pig, meaning only sensors in the probe will be exposed. It'll be looking for Quantum.

      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        Wouldn't that be "quanta" instead of "quantum"?

        More than one kind of radiation in a cme gas cloud... doesn't make sense to measure only one.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by ackthpt (218170)

          Wouldn't that be "quanta" instead of "quantum"?

          More than one kind of radiation in a cme gas cloud... doesn't make sense to measure only one.

          You measure Quanta with Koala Bears*, not Guine Pigs.

          *Substitutable with Drop-bears, if you can find any.

          • You measure Quanta with Koala Bears*, not Guine Pigs.

            No, no, no -- you measure Qantas with koala bears. Sheesh, what are they teaching the kids these days...

            • by Cimexus (1355033)

              Pedant mode on: koalas are not bears. It's just a koala, not a koala bear.

            • by EETech1 (1179269)

              I thought you Time Qantas with koala bears, or you CAN...

      • by TWX (665546)

        No, the probe is a metaphorical Guinea Pig...

        Be careful with people understanding five-syllable words...

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Don't worry they'll just label it a "*Space kitten*" and then make ads calling for its protection and try to get hipster celebs on board.

      *._ for those that don't get the joke please look up "PETA Seakittens" for a shocking example of how a group once upon a time was for the ethical treatment of food animals past the batshit exit about 30 miles back...wow.

  • I'm sure Citizen #64226 would be interested in hearing about the failure to stop the latest invader from the blue planet, but he's busy trying to regrow his gelsacs...

    • Fellow Citizens, as we draw close to the Fourth Anniversary [slashdot.org] of the Invasion of the Twins and the ensuing Battle for the Plains, let us not forget the words of K'Breel, Speaker for the Council:

      The last remnant of the invading force sickens us with its decadent, passive, lackadaisical attitude. Even as one of its bastard progeny spirals inward to a fiery doom in the toxic atmosphere of the blue world, and its nuclear-powered cousin bakes in the radiation of a solar flare, the last so-called warrior still act

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      I'm sure Citizen #64226 would be interested in hearing about the failure to stop the latest invader from the blue planet, but he's busy trying to regrow his gelsacs...

      I am not a number, I am a free man. - #6

  • by wbr1 (2538558)
    And when PHOBOS heard this it GRUNTed.
  • D.O.A. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ebonum (830686) on Friday January 27, 2012 @08:57PM (#38847055)

    This problem could make a manned trip to Mars impossible. The radiation in open space from one solar flare would fry a bunch of astronauts. Sending people to Mars becomes a gamble on the odds of a solar event occurring. Worse yet. There is no technology within reach that can protect astronauts from this type of radiation. A few feet of lead shielding might help some, but the weight would be too much to get into space. Plus, try slowing down all that mass when you arrive at Mars. Perhaps a nuclear powered wire loop ( super conducting??? ) with a circumference of a mile or two? Something with enough kick to deflect super high speed charged particles a few meters - enough to keep them away from the crew?...
    I don't see any way to get people to mars with an acceptably high probability of survival.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Rather then a physical shield, a strong magnetic shield (much like how the earth shields us) might be a possible method to shield astronauts. A nuclear reactor could power a shield as well as possibly some from of nuclear propulsion in the far off future. Though by that time, material science may have caught up to solve this problem.

      Really, I wouldn't call it impossible, just very far off should radiation become a problem.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Mining/manufacturing the massive shielding on Luna would make it rather cheaper to launch into interplanetary space, not to mention the water from Luna's poles... And you don't necessarily have to land the radiation shielding (though you might want to, given Mars' lack of a magnetosphere), you could park it in orbit and pick it up for the trip back. Fine ladies and gents have been using parasols to shield themselves on a sunny day for a long time...

      Magnetic shielding sounds like it would take too much power

    • Re:D.O.A. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:05PM (#38847671) Journal
      Agreed. Someday, people will simply wake up to the fact that we evolved to be here, and anything outside of our thin biospheric shell is simply not "a really good idea". There's nothing wrong with being trapped on earth *if you take care of the place*.

      We're not going to Mars. Period. Get over it. At the rate we're going we'll be lucky to feed ourselves by 2025...

      • by jamvger (2526832)
        And in a billion years, it will all be gone [bbc.co.uk] . . .
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Earth AND Mars are both death-traps.

        This isn't about our individual survival.
        It is about having our species survive beyond the Sun's lifespan AND beyond a localized event in this part of the galaxy.

        Humans need to spread out across the galaxy or we will be killed off. Period.

      • by Chelloveck (14643)

        Wow. First you say there's nothing wrong with being trapped on earth, then you suggest we're going to run out of food in a decade. You don't think that's a good enough reason to find more space to live?

        Personally, I don't agree that we're anywhere near that close to running out of food. Or living space, for that matter. But world population is doubling about every fifty years, and at some point we're going to be in trouble. Or by "if you take care of the place" did you mean that we should adhere to a s

        • You missed this part:

          There's nothing wrong with being trapped on earth *if you take care of the place*.

          take care of the place. Reduce your numbers. grow the fuck up and deal with the limitations the earth requires. It's not your planet. You just live here.

    • Re:D.O.A. (Score:5, Informative)

      by celticryan (887773) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @12:01AM (#38847859)
      You are not quite right. For this sort of radiation, lead is not so great. You want shielding that contains lots of low-Z nuclei. The more hydrogen the better. This is because you get a lot of secondary nuclear fragments and hydrogen minimizes these sort of interactions. For Mars, it actually isn't the solar storms that are worrying - it is the fairly constant galactic cosmic ray background that is more difficult to shield against. It is has a high energy tail that is quit penetrating.

      Solar storms are important, but a small storm shelter inside the craft can, in principal, handle this. Storms are typically short, so confining the crew to this area is typically reasonable.
      • by ebonum (830686)

        If lots of hydrogen works well, specifically what material are you referring to? For instance, is water good? Methane?
        How much would it take to stop something such as 5 MeV protons?

        Please detail what you mean by "small storm shelter".

        About the Magnetic field. You should be able to deflect high energy charged particles as long as you have a strong enough magnetic field. Small and powerful or larger and weaker would work. If the ship has any computers, a powerful magnetic field might cause problems. I h

        • I truly mean anything with a lot of hydrogen. It attenuates the high-charge, high-energy radiation better (less secondary particle production). Water is good, liquid hydrogen is very good, polyethylene is also something that is often studied. I am ONLY talking about materials for radiation shielding here. Realistically, single function materials are not good for design engineers for space. The problem is actually things you want to build structures out of (space certified materials) don't tend to be hi
        • When we studied manned Mars missions at Boeing, and ate samples of the long term food, we placed the "storm shelter" in the middle of the food storage lockers. Food contains water and carbohydrates which contain hydrogen, which is good shielding. If you have a once-through food system, the waste goes back in the same lockers, and maintains the shielding. If you have a regenerative life support, with a greenhouse, the storm shelter goes in the middle of the growing area/water tanks/food storage. Even wit

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)

      The radiation in open space from one solar flare would fry a bunch of astronauts.

      Unless the solar flare actually directly hits the spacecraft this isn't a big worry. In fact, to some extent under the right circumstances things are safe during a solar flare since there will be less exposure to cosmic rays due to the Forbush effect- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbush_decrease [wikipedia.org]. And magnetic shielding can easily handle any indirect solar flare, while direct hits are extremely rare (the ISS for example has been in space for about a decade and has never gotten a serious direct hit). In gene

      • by Anonymous Coward

        (the ISS for example has been in space for about a decade and has never gotten a serious direct hit).

        The ISS doesn't need shielding because the earth is shielding it. The ISS is in low earth orbit - that's 200 miles up. Solar flares *sometimes* penetrate the earth's magnetosphere and hit geostationary satellites. Those are 22,000 miles up. Nothing gets down to 200 miles so ISS is safe. Interplanetary space is not.

    • by EETech1 (1179269)

      Is the ISS close enough to the earth to be protected somewhat by Earth's magnetic field? How do they get away with it?

      Cheers!

    • by zmooc (33175)

      It would not make it impossible. It merely would make it about as risky as attempting to cross an ocean in the 1600s. A risk that was acceptable back then and should be acceptable to any people that actually want to get somewhere today.

    • Ages ago, a potential solution for this was proposed: use an Earth and Mars grazing/crossing asteroid (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mars-crossing_minor_planets/ [wikipedia.org] for a list). Since there are several asteroids which have been shown to be rubble piles, it should be possible to find similar candidates from the above list; these could be (relatively easily) burrowed into and the radiation problem would then be solved, at least for the asteroid-hitchhiking portion of the trip. An ambitious program cou
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:13PM (#38847147) Homepage Journal

    Newt was not the first to propose an ambitious space project. [google.com]

    Mars, bitches!

    And this, my fellow Americans, is why we need to have our first real black president.

  • On the surface (Score:4, Interesting)

    by imemyself (757318) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:25PM (#38847229)
    It would be interesting as well to know how much of an impact this would have to people on the Martian surface. Mars's magnetic field is pretty weak compared to ours. I guess they would be a little better protected just by the planet surface itself.

    Even on the Apollo missions to the moon, they recognized that a solar storm could be a significant threat to the astronauts. Given the infrequence they decided to just take their chances. But the time they spent outside of the LEO was pretty low compared to what a Mars mission would entail.
    • Re:On the surface (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cavreader (1903280) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:45PM (#38847595)
      You are correct. We are protected on Earth by the planets magnetic fields and atmosphere. The amount of radiation every bio-organism on the planet is subjected too has played an important role in evolution on the planet. Too much radiation or smaller amounts of radiation could have nudged evolution to the extent where humans may never have evolved in it's current form. One thing that I have wandered about is why people think that human evolution has stopped. If there are humans still alive in a couple of million years would the species have the same physical traits that exist today? The environmental conditions the human species originally evolved from is constantly being changed by both natural and man made activity. On the moon we could lessen our exposure to radiation by building underground but for Mars we would need a way to protect people during the voyage before we could start building underground habitats on that planet. I believe someone will eventually make a break through in understanding how to nullify and manipulate radiation levels when necessary. So far we have just tapped the most obvious uses of the electromagnetic spectrum we use in our communication devices and computers but there is still a great deal we do not understand. Even our knowledge of nuclear processes is weak when it comes to practical applications. We can produce fission for bombs and power plants but we cannot harness fusion based processes in the real world. Does anyone else think that the guys who built and deployed the first nuclear bomb were 100% confident that the nuclear reaction would not start a chain reaction in the atmosphere? Doing the math is one thing but actually detonating a nuclear weapon was something altogether different and risky.
      • Re:On the surface (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AK Marc (707885) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @12:02AM (#38847861)
        We've evolved tools to protect those incapable of protecting themselves, and we strive for the norm. We are going to fight evolution, not embrace it. Evolution is thousands of tiny mutations, accumulating an advantage. But any further mutations will be stopped..

        Does anyone else think that the guys who built and deployed the first nuclear bomb were 100% confident that the nuclear reaction would not start a chain reaction in the atmosphere?

        They weren't 100% sure. And the people making the first trains worried that traveling 35 mph or faster would prevent you from breathing. New things always trigger "OMG, what if" and nearly none of them have ever come true.

  • Sky Crane (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lazarus (2879) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:45PM (#38847311) Journal

    If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching the Curiosity Launch Video [youtube.com]. I don't think the rover has to worry about radiation so much as the landing. I'd like to start a pool on which part of the untested landing sequence will fail and deliver a smoking hole in Mars instead of the rover.

    I seriously hope it works - if it does it will be one of humanity's most amazing technological feats. But I fear the worst.

    • by koan (80826)

      I agree it seems overly complex and therefore bound to fail.

      • Quick, call NASA! Screw the rocket scientists and engineers who designed the thing and whose work almost certainly includes detailed failure rate estimates which ended up being acceptably low for the project to proceed. We may as well press the self-destruct button now and get it over with.

        This is the part of /. I hate the most--nerds blessing the world with their special insight, because they really do have insight in their chosen field, and that translates to every other field, right?

        • by Maow (620678)

          I agree it seems overly complex and therefore bound to fail.

          Quick, call NASA! Screw the rocket scientists and engineers who designed the thing and whose work almost certainly includes detailed failure rate estimates which ended up being acceptably low for the project to proceed. We may as well press the self-destruct button now and get it over with.

          This is the part of /. I hate the most--nerds blessing the world with their special insight, because they really do have insight in their chosen field, and that translates to every other field, right?

          I disagree with GP, though they might be trying to express sarcasm at GGP, but from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploration_of_Mars [wikipedia.org]:

          The exploration of Mars has come at a considerable financial cost with roughly two-thirds of all spacecraft destined for Mars failing before completing their missions, with some failing before they even begin.

          At least GGP made no indication he thought that NASA was somehow wrong or dumb, but ya gotta admit, that linked-to video's landing sequence is rather Rube-Golbergian.

          Reg

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      So when it wound up with a parachute I thought, "Ahh, Lazarus was exaggerating, this ain't so bad."

      Then it deployed a rocket lander and I thought, "Oh, maybe he's right."

      Then it popped the rover out on a Mars yo-yo, and I said, "Oh, come on!"

      Then it gently releases the rover and goes shooting off over the horizon and I just started chuckling.

      If this thing works, NASA rules.

      • by petsounds (593538)

        The more pressing question is, where does that sky crane fly off to? Perhaps a secret mission to bomb the Martians' base?

    • by datsa (1951424)
      I think better antialiasing would really help the next mission.
  • by koan (80826) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:03PM (#38847407)

    Needs a lot of water, if you were to locate the water in between hull layers it acts as quite a nice radiation shield.

    And perhaps, though I'm not certain and currently feeling lazy, a micro meteorite shield as well.

  • Funny how NASA's probe can withstand a noteworthy coronal mass ejection, while the Phobos Grunt is apparently downed by radar.

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