Fred and Matroshka, Sitting on the ISS…
One of the big problems with going beyond low Earth orbit (LEO for those who like acryonyms) is that you are no longer inside Earth’s magnetic field. This exposes you to all kinds of nasty cosmic rays that can damage cells in your body. A short hop for a few days on the Moon is not too bad, but if we want to establish a base and have people spend months there or even go to Mars, well, that can be a showstopper.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are both hard at work studying the problem. Enter Fred and Matroshka. They are mannequins desinged to help us understand how radiation effects the human body. Each of them has hundreds of embedded sensors to measure the radiation dose at different locations in the body. Not all radiation damage is equal: you might survive a little more in your biceps than in your brain of lungs. Modeling where the radiation is deposited can only go so far and testing on implanting a bunch of radiation sensors in a person isn’t exactly a viable solution.
Current shielding technology couldn’t protect us…we would need too much and the spacecraft would be too heavy. On the Moon building underground (say into the side of a mountain or hill) could be a potential solution although excavating would increase the complexity of the construction.
We can solve most of the technical problems to spend a long time on the Moon and could even get to Mars in a reasonable amount of time…staying healthy in space is one of the biggest hurdles that remain (save for money and polticial will).
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