NASA has set its sight on the moon of Mars — Phobos — as a possible start base to aid in the human exploration of the Red Planet. However, a new study shows that strong solar winds on the Martian moon could thwart the space agency's plans.
Research shows that powerful solar eruptions create a complex electrical environment on Phobos that could adversely impact crew members and scientific equipment during future missions.
Martian Moons As A Base For Future Crewed Missions To Mars
NASA had considered Phobos as an initial base for future crewed missions to the Red Planet because of its weak gravity, which would have made it more convenient to land supplies, astronauts and spacecraft.
The U.S. space agency's plan was to have astronauts controlling the robots placed on the Martian surface from Phobos itself, which would have also cut down the time delay that Earth-based operators face.
Probability Of Astronauts Incurring Static Shock On Phobos
Phobos has no atmosphere and is directly exposed to the solar wind blowing off the sun's surface into space at about a million miles per hour. Therefore, based on the study conducted by NASA, strong solar winds could electrically charge areas on Phobos to hundreds of volts that could have a detrimental effect on crewed missions and equipment.
The buildup of static charge in the shadowed regions and nightside of Phobos can go up to 10,000 volts in some materials — for instance, in the Teflon suits that crew members on the Apollo lunar missions wore.
Consequently, crew members and rovers traversing in the nightside and shadowed region of the Martian moon could transfer charge from the rock and dust to their spacesuits. As a result, if and when astronauts on a mission to Phobos touch something conductive, it could release a charge, leading to static shock.
The researchers feel that similar conditions could prevail on the other moon of Mars — Deimos — though the study was based on findings on Phobos.
"We found that astronauts or rovers could accumulate significant electric charges when traversing the night side of Phobos — the side facing Mars during the Martian day," said William Farrell, lead study author from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
"While we don't expect these charges to be large enough to injure an astronaut, they are potentially large enough to affect sensitive equipment, so we would need to design spacesuits and equipment that minimizes any charging hazard," he added.