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NASA plans to send humans to Mars by 2030 but for that to happen, the space agency has to figure out how to fold and pack a giant blanket. And they’re looking to the public for help.
On Wednesday, NASA and Freelancer.com launched a challenge to crowdsource origami-inspired ideas for a foldable radiation shield. As NASA technician Doug Hofmann tells Day 6 guest host Jelena Adzic, the goal of the campaign is to generate new ideas, as well as educate the public.
“We are trying to raise awareness about the real dangers that astronauts face from the threat of radiation,” he says.
“The long-term exposure to galactic cosmic rays gives you a chronic exposure of radiation which ultimately increases cancer risk. Even in a relatively short transit to Mars, that exposure can be quite significant.”
Dangers of galactic cosmic rays
Radiation comes from the sun and from outside the solar system in the form of galactic cosmic rays, or GCRs. These rays are high-energy atomic nuclei that move in all directions and can penetrate spacecraft walls, spacesuits and human bodies.
NASA is trying to figure out how to create a magnetic field to protect the astronauts. Hofmann and his colleagues, Dr. Kristina Rojdev and Dr. Sabah Bux, are responsible for the materials that will shield the spacecraft.
“It’s a very difficult challenge to deal with and it’s one that the public isn’t aware of. I think that’s largely been driven by popular culture,” he says, pointing to movies like Passengers, The Martian and Interstellar.
All three films are set in deep space and feature scenes with their respective stars sitting in front of giant picture frame windows looking out at space.
Hofmann says, in reality, that view would be hazardous or would have to be obscured.