YOU ARE HERE: Home > News & Press > News archive > News 2007 > RAS PN 07/25 (NAM 21): SHIELDS FOR THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE - A REALITY?

I want information on:

Information for:

NEWS ARCHIVE

RAS PN 07/25 (NAM 21): SHIELDS FOR THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE - A REALITY?

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 April 2010 18:09
Published on Wednesday, 18 April 2007 00:00
Travel beyond the immediate vicinity of the Earth carries significant risks for astronauts, not the least of which is the exposure to sometimes high levels of radiation. Now a team of scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are set to construct an experimental magnetic shield that would protect explorers in their journeys between the planets. Dr Ruth Bamford will present this idea in her talk on Wednesday 18 April at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Preston...

ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS INFORMATION NOTE


EMBARGOED FOR 00:01 BST, WEDNESDAY 18 APRIL 2007
Ref.: PN 07/ 25 (NAM 21)
 
Issued by RAS Press Officers:
Robert Massey
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4582
Mobile: +44 (0)794 124 8035
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


AND


Anita Heward
Tel: +44 (0)1483 420 904
Mobile: +44 (0)7756 034 243
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


National Astronomy Meeting Press Room (16 - 20 April only):
Tel: +44 (0)1772 892 613

                           892 475

                           892 477




RAS National Astronomy Meeting web site: http://nam2007.uclan.ac.uk


CONTACT DETAILS ARE LISTED AT THE END OF THIS RELEASE.


*******************************************************************


SHIELDS FOR THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE: A REALITY?


In the last year space agencies in the United States, Europe, China, Japan and India have announced their intention to resume human exploration of the Solar system, beginning with the Moon and perhaps ultimately moving on to Mars. But travel beyond the immediate vicinity of the Earth carries significant risks for astronauts, not the least of which is the exposure to sometimes high levels of radiation. Now a team of scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are set to construct an experimental magnetic shield that would protect explorers in their journeys between the planets. Dr Ruth Bamford will present this idea in her talk on Wednesday 18 April at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Preston.


Cosmic rays and radiation from the Sun itself can cause acute radiation sickness in astronauts and even death. Between 1968 and 1973, the Apollo astronauts going to the moon were only in space for about 10 days at a time and were simply lucky not to have been in space during a major eruption on the sun that would have flooded their spacecraft with deadly radiation. In retrospect Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step for Man’ would have looked very different if it had.


On the International Space Station there is a special thick-walled room to which the astronauts have had to retreat during times of increased solar radiation. However on longer missions the astronauts cannot live within shielded rooms, since such shielding would add significantly to the mass of the spacecraft, making them much more expensive and difficult to launch. It is also now known that the ‘drip-drip’ of even lower levels of radiation can be as dangerous as acute bursts from the sun.


On the surface of the Earth we are protected from radiation by the thick layers of the atmosphere. And the terrestrial magnetic field extends far into space, acting as a natural ‘force field’ to further protect our planet and deflecting the worst of the energetic particles from the Sun by creating a ‘plasma barrier’.


Now scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire plan to mimic nature. They will build a miniature magnetosphere in a laboratory to see if a deflector shield can be used to protect humans living on space craft and in bases on the Moon or Mars.


In order to work, an artificial mini-magnetosphere on a space craft will need to utilise many cutting edge technologies, such as superconductors and the magnetic confinement techniques used in nuclear fusion.


Thus science is following science fiction once again. The writers of Star Trek realised that any space craft containing humans would need protection from the hazardous effects of cosmic radiation. They envisioned a ‘deflector shield’ spreading out from the Starship Enterprise that the radiation would bounce off. These experiments will help to establish whether this idea could one day become a practical reality.


CONTACT(s):


Dr Ruth Bamford

Space Science and Technology Department

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Tel:  +44 (0)1235 446 517

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Professor Robert Bingham

Space Science and Technology Department

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dr. Mike Hapgood

Space Science and Technology Department

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel:+44 (1235) 446520


Dr Kieran Gibson

Sackville Street Building

University of Manchester

Manchester M60 1QD

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel:+44 (0) 161 306 3927


Tom Todd

EFDA-JET

Culham Science Centre

Abingdon

Oxfordshire OX14 3DB

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: +44 (0)1235 46 5399


Luis Gargate

Centro de Física dos Plasmas

Instituto Superior Técnico

1049-001 Lisboa

PORTUGAL


Professor Luis Silva

Sackville Street Building

University of Manchester

Manchester M60 1QD


From 16 to 20 April, Dr Bamford and Professor Hapgood can be contacted via the NAM press office (see above).


NOTES FOR EDITORS


The 2007 RAS National Astronomy Meeting is hosted by the University of Central Lancashire. It is sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.


This year the NAM is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings. 2007 is International Heliophysical Year.


IMAGES:


These are available directly from Dr Bamford and will be posted on the RAS NAM website at www.nam2007.uclan.ac.uk/press.php and also at http://www.eiscat.rl.ac.uk/~ian/press_release/minimag_diagram.html


Caption:


An artificial magnetosphere could be generated around manned space craft en route to the Moon or Mars to protect the occupants from the potentially lethal radiation in space from the Sun. A superconducting ring on board such a space craft could produce a magnetic field, or mini-magnetosphere, similar to the Earth’s, which would create a Star Trek like ‘deflector or plasma shield’.