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NASA's New Radiation Shielding First Proposed By John W. Campbell In 1936

NASA engineers are working on a clever new idea for shielding astronauts from cosmic rays. If you put the tanks containing the fuel and water needed for the journey on the outside of the living space, they can be used for shielding. Just like science fiction writer John W. Campbell first proposed in 1936.


(From Shields Up! New Radiation Protection for Spacecraft and Astronauts)

Richard Wilkins, director of NASA's Center for Applied Radiation Research at Prairie View A & M University in Texas has conducted a study into liquid shield approaches. As he puts it

"In most [mission] scenarios, you need liquid hydrogen for fuel and you need water. And these are all considered materials that are particularly good for cosmic ray shielding."

The tests demonstrate that the atoms of liquid hydrogen provide an excellent screen against cosmic rays; they don't fragment into secondary particles like heavier elements (as would be the case with lead shielding). And the radiation from secondary particles can be just as harmful.

In 1936, the protagonists of John W. Campbell's The Ultimate Weapon found themselves in need of good shielding from blasts of radiation:

"You mean they bathed that ship in neutrons?"

"Shot it full of 'em. Just like our proton guns, only sending neutrons."

"Well, why weren't we killed too?"

"Water stops neutrons," Kendall said. "Figure it out."

"The rocket-water tanks - all around us... that saved us?"

Update 05-May-2021: See also this very early idea for shielding - the ozone radiation shield from A Daring Trip To Mars (1931) by Max Valier. End update.

See Shields Up! New Radiation Protection for Spacecraft and Astronauts for more information. (Thanks to Winchell Chung for the story idea.)

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/27/2004)

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