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Undergrad Proposes Asteroids As Radiation Shields

NASA is funding a study to see if it might be possible to use asteroids traveling between the orbits of Earth and Mars to shelter spacecraft from radiation. The study is the brainchild of Daniella Della-Giustina, engineering physics undergrad - and maybe science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke.


(Daniella Della-Giustina and meteor)

Della-Giustina is one of five people to receive NASA's Advanced Concepts Student Fellows Prize this year. Her project is titled "The Martian Bus Schedule: An Innovative Technique for Protecting Humans on a Journey to Mars."

She will investigate two possibilities. The first involves spacecraft actually hitching a ride on asteroids that cross the orbits of both Earth and Mars; astronauts could mine various resources from the asteroid during their journey.

The second possibility is that the asteroid could be used as a "sunshade." Astronauts would travel in the shadow of the meteor for as long as possible; astronauts could visit the asteroid on short space walks.

Which brings us to Arthur C. Clarke. His short story Summertime on Icarus was published in 1960; it describes a method for getting a research ship closer to the sun than ever before using a comet:

Everything had been carefully planned, years in advance, as part of the International Astrophysical Decade. Here was a unique opportunity for a research ship to get within a mere seventeen million miles of the sun, protected from it's fury by a two-mile-thick shield of rock and iron. In the shadow of Icarus, the ship could ride safely round the central fire which warmed all the planets, and upon which the existence of all life depended.

This is not the first time NASA has investigated ideas for radiation shielding proposed by science fiction writers; see NASA's New Radiation Shielding First Proposed By John W. Campbell In 1936.

Update 05-May-2021: I found a new (well, quite old, but new for me!) idea for ozone radiation shield in a 1932 story by Max Valier. End update.

Read more about Della-Giustina and her project here and here; thanks to Fred and Winchell for suggesting this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/25/2006)

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