Star Trek shields to guard astronauts

Shields up! UK space scientists are preparing to build the first Star Trek-style deflector to protect astronauts on long missions to Mars. Science-fiction will become reality when the researchers create an artificial force field to guard crews from deadly cosmic rays and other radiation.

Nasa image of a Mars shipSo far, visitors to the International Space Station have had to hide behind thick protective walls during powerful storms on the sun.

But under the British plan, crews on interplanetary missions will switch on a magnetic field that will produce a shield like that around the USS Enterprise.

The team of scientists, led by Dr Ruth Bamford from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, near Oxford, unveiled their project at the National Astronomy Meeting in Preston, Lancs, today.

The shield, called a magnetosphere, will mimic a similar natural magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, protecting us from space radiation. It produces the spectacular aurora, or northern lights, when hit by deadly streams from the Sun.

In 1972, the crew of Apollo 16 had just returned safely from the Moon when a massive storm erupted on the Sun that was so strong it could have killed them.

The prototype shield is to be built in miniature in the scientists’ laboratory. But the aim is to produce full scale versions to protect spacecraft and manned bases on the Moon and Mars.

The prototype will need to use cutting edge technology such as superconductors and technologies used in nuclear fusion.

Picture: A Nasa artist’s impression of a Mars ship.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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