Dousing concerns on how Mars can be made habitable for humans despite the high radiation hazard and no water, a senior NASA scientist has floated a brave new idea of installing a magnetic field around Mars to restore the Red Planet's atmosphere and make it habitable.
James Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, presented this idea while speaking at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop at the space agency's headquarters in Washington.
The workshop mainly discussed futuristic space projects that could be operational by 2050. Many speakers unveiled their vision on what planetary science may look like in the future.
How Does The Magnetic Shield Work?
The vision of Green's magnetic shield around Mars will involve launching it to a stable orbit between Mars and the sun, called Mars L1.
The magnetic shield will save the Red Planet from high-energy solar particles. Mars's atmosphere has been damaged by solar particles that ripped away 90 percent of the layer, which had given the planet temperate climate and surface water about 3.5 billion years ago.
Technically the magnetic shield will comprise a huge dipole functioning as a closed electric circuit for generating the artificial magnetic field. Such a shield will put Mars in the protected magnetotail within the artificially created magnetic field and hasten the restoration of its atmosphere at least in parts.
Simulation models suggested that a shield could help Mars restore half the atmospheric pressure in a few years.
When solar winds are kept out by the magnetic shield, the frozen carbon dioxide lying at the polar ice caps of the Red Planet would either sublimate or take a gaseous form.
The greenhouse effect from the carbon dioxide may fill Mars' slim atmosphere and heat the planet by which stored up ice at the poles would melt and enable the flow of liquid water.
"Perhaps one-seventh of the ancient ocean could return to Mars," said Green.
Though theoretically the plans look viable, the ground results are far from predictable. However, the effort may mark a milestone in the endeavor to make Mars habitable in another 100 years.
"The solar system is ours, let's take it. That of course includes Mars and for humans to be able to explore Mars, together, with us doing science, we need a better environment," Green added.
Vest For Mars Astronauts
Meanwhile, a special vest that would protect astronauts in deep space from solar radiation will be put on free trial during the upcoming lunar mission of NASA, according to the developers based in Israel.
Tel Aviv-based StemRad has promoted a belt for the rescue workers involved in many nuclear disasters from dangerous gamma radiation in events like Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Company CEO Oren Milstein said human tissues will be protected by the vest, especially stem cells that are vulnerable to solar radiation in places like Mars where the thin atmosphere offers no protection. NASA is planning to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s.
Made of layers, the vest can be customized for each astronaut in which nonmetallic protective materials are configured to shield an astronaut's organs.
"This product will enable human deep space exploration. Our breakthrough has come in creating the architecture of the multi-layered shield to accurately cover the most important organs," said Milstein.
The testing will be conducted on the Orion spacecraft in 2018 when it orbits the moon during the maiden flight of NASA's heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket.
Lockheed Martin, NASA and the European Space Agency jointly own the project Orion. NASA is also studying the viability of flying two astronauts on that mission.
The testing of the vest will be done by strapping the vest to a "phantom" torso dummy that will monitor radiation absorption. There will be another phantom flying unprotected. The results will be analyzed when the mission returns to Earth.
According to Gideon Waterman, StemRad's chief technologist, the vest will balance the density with flexibility to protect astronauts enabling free movement.