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Cairo – Samia Sayed – The prospect of sending astronauts on a journey of 6 to 9 months to Mars presents many challenges, not to mention the risks they face while conducting scientific operations on the surface, according to an RT report.
In the next decade, the US space agency and its Chinese counterpart plan to send the first manned missions to Mars, and this will consist of sending both agencies to spacecraft in 2033, 2035 and 2037, and every 26 months thereafter. to coincide with the opposition of Mars (that is, when Earth and Mars are as close as possible to their orbits).
The long-term goal of these programs is to create a base on Mars that will serve as a hub for future missions, although the Chinese said they intend to keep their base permanent.
In a recent study, an international team of scientists examined the Martian environment, from the tops of Mount Olympus to its underground recesses, to find the lowest level of radiation. Their findings could benefit future missions to Mars and create habitats on Mars.
And when it comes to missions to Mars and other locations outside of Low Earth Orbit (LEO), radiation is always a constant concern. Compared to Earth, Mars’ atmosphere is weak (less than 1% of air pressure), and there is no protective magnetosphere to protect the surface from solar and cosmic radiation.
Consequently, scientists assume that harmful particles, especially galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), can reproduce and interact directly with the atmosphere and even reach the surface of Mars.
However, the level of exposure to radiation only depends on how thick the atmosphere is, which changes due to altitude.
In low-lying areas such as Mars’ well-known valley system (Valles Marineris) and its largest crater (Hellas Planitia), atmospheric pressures are estimated to exceed 1.2 and 1.24 kPa, respectively. This is about twice the average 0.636 kPa and up to 10 times the atmospheric pressure at high altitude locations such as Olympus Mons (the largest mountain in the Solar System).
“Different heights mean different atmospheric thicknesses. In general, higher places have an atmosphere,” said Dr. Jingnan Gu, a Christian Albrecht University professor and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), co-author Professor Jian Zhang, explained to Universe Today by email. “Thinner at the top. High-energy particle radiation must move through the atmosphere to reach the surface of Mars. If the thickness of the atmosphere changes, so can the surface radiation. So altitude can affect the radiation from the surface of Mars.”
To this end, the team looked at the effect of the depths of the atmosphere on Mars’ radiation levels.
The scientists found that higher surface pressure could effectively reduce the amount of heavy ion radiation (GCRs), but additional protection is still needed.
Unfortunately, the presence of this shielding can lead to “cosmic jets”, where the effect of heavy ion radiation against the shielding creates secondary particles that can engulf the habitat with different levels of neutron radiation (also known as neutron flux).
This can significantly contribute to the effective dose of radiation absorbed by the astronauts.
The team notes that both the neutron flux and the effective dose peak at about 30 cm (1 foot) below the surface. Fortunately, these results provide solutions for the use of the Mars regolith for protection.
For a given threshold of annual biologically weighted effective dose of radiation, for example, 100 mSv (an amount often considered the minimum risk of radiation-induced cancer), the required regolith depth varies from about 1 m to 1.6 mm Within this range, in a deep well where the surface pressure is higher, the additional regolith shielding required is slightly smaller. While at the top of Mount Olympus, the additional regolith protection required is higher. “
Based on their findings, the best locations for future habitats on Mars will be in the lowlands, at depths of 1 meter and 1.6 meters (3.28 to 5.25 feet) below the surface. Therefore, the northern lowlands, which make up most of the Northern Hemisphere (also known as Vastitas Borealis), and the Valles Marineris Valley will be very suitable sites. In addition to thicker atmospheric pressure, these areas also contain abundant water ice just below the surface.
And if all goes according to plan, astronauts will be on Mars in just over a decade. It will consist of transits lasting six to nine months (excluding the development of more advanced propulsion technology) and surface operations of up to 18 months.
In short, astronauts will have to grapple with the increased radiation risk for up to three years. As such, detailed mitigation strategies need to be developed early.
“Our study can help reduce radiation risks when designing future Mars habitats by using natural surface materials as protective shields,” said Dr. You said. “Such research will therefore be of great value when mission planners begin to consider designs for future Mars habitats that rely on energy-saving materials. Natural surfactants to provide radiation protection.