New Study Investigates 'Deflector Shield' Technology

By Michelle
April 19, 2007 - 10:11 PM

Deflector-type shields could protect future astronauts, according to a new study.

New Scientist has reported that current experiments on magnetic deflector shields may one day allow astronauts to go on lengthy space missions without fear from space radiation kept from reaching Earth by the planet's own magnetic field. Teams in both the US and UK are testing the use of plasma, a bubble of charged particles, as a deflector shield.

"Hopefully we'll be able to fly a test mission in the next, say, 10 to 15 years," said Robert Bingham of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. He is on a team led by Ruth Bamford, who hopes to test plasma in a vacuum chamber during 2007.

"The question is, can you do it on a larger scale," said John Slough, one of the scientists working in Seattle on a similar project. NASA has tended to favor the use of extra layers of material rather than a plasma shield which could potentially break down during use.

The Times Online noted that the Apollo astronauts who landed on the moon were fortunate that there were no solar flares during their trips into space and explained that on the space station, current astronauts protect themselves by moving into a special thick-walled room. Such barrier shielding would be more complicated on a mission to Mars.

"It’s no accident that Star Trek featured this sort of technology, as it had advisers who work for Nasa and it's feasible," Bamford said. "The shields seem to be some sort of invisible barrier, which energy bounces off, and that sort of deflector shield is exactly what we’re talking there’s the will to send astronauts back into space, we need to be able to do it safely."

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