NASA has made great strides in its project aimed at sending actual astronauts to Mars for the first time in history. The one major obstacle it has yet to overcome? Radiation.
Radiation in deep space, in the form of Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR), is so strong that exposed astronauts would be at high risk for diseases like cancer after exposure for approximately 150 days.
Astronauts stationed on the International Space Station, for example, are protected from GCRs by Earth’s magnetic field. Unfortunately, this protective layer only extends out to about 27,000 miles above the surface of the planet. Mars is roughly 140 million miles farther (or 243 days of radiation exposure, one-way).
Apparently at an R&D dead-end, NASA has turned to crowd-sourcing for some new solutions – offering up to $29,000 to anyone who can figure out a way to get astronauts safely to Mars without harmful exposure to radiation.
The challenge was announced on April 29 through the crowd-sourcing platform, InnoCentive.
The only time that NASA astronauts have left earth’s protective atmosphere was during the Apollo mission, which lasted only a few days, and therefore didn’t pose much of a health risk. This leaves the organization with mostly theoretical knowledge of space radiation’s negative effects on a crew’s long-term health.
Since 2008, a concerted effort on the part of scientists worldwide has been trying to study the exact effects of space radiation on the human body. When mice were blasted with similar types of radiation, it caused severe brain inflammation, which reduced the their cognitive functions including learning and memory.
This is only one of a series of crowd-sourced projects created by NASA on the InnoCentive platform. It is uncertain why the federally-funded organization with a budget of $18 billion (in 2015) is offering such a pathetic sum of money to someone capable of changing the future of human scientific knowledge.