Scientists Are Building a Shield to Protect Astronauts From Cancer

You don't get sunburnt in space. You get a tumor.

In the sheer emptiness of deep space, there’s nothing to protect astronauts from huge amounts of cancer-causing radiation. Unless scientists can figure out how to deflect the harmful rays, it’d be pretty damn irresponsible to send astronauts on long trips to the moon, Mars, or nearby asteroids. That means the short term goal is to invent a superconducting shield, instead of a portable chemo rig, and a team of European scientists has just made a major step in that direction.

The European Space Radiation Superconducting Shield, or SR2S, project wants to use magnets to shield astronauts from radiation in much the same way the Earth’s magnetosphere protects its surface. The idea is to create a magnetic field around the spacecraft to deflect the high-energy cosmic particles zooming around space. A 2013 estimate shows that an astronaut gets hit with the same amount of radiation in a single day as a regular American gets in a year.

The team, which includes representatives from organizations based in Italy, France, and Ireland, as well as CERN announced this week that they’ve been winding the superconductor magnesium diboride around a racetrack coil that’s central to the magnet. The material that results doesn’t just let currents travel at record-breaking speeds; it can also function at super-high temperatures, so a complicated spacecraft cooling system won’t be as necessary.

The new technology is still in the prototype stage, but as scientists continue to develop it as part of the three-year, €2,740,898.84 SR2S project, it’ll bring us one step closer to making deep space travel a reality.

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