Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Travel To Mars Via Asteroid?

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Since traveling to Mars can be dangerous to your health (thanks to cosmic radiation) some researchers are proposing that future astronauts travel to the red planet via asteroids that orbit between Earth and Mars.

(New Scientist Space) In one version of the idea, the astronauts would actually dig a hole in the asteroid, put the spacecraft inside and cover it over with material from the asteroid. Within this protective burrow, the spacecraft would be shielded from cosmic rays during the six- to 10- month journey to Mars.

In a second version, the spacecraft would not contact the space rock. Instead, it would hover nearby, and astronauts or robots would visit it on spacewalks. "You'd have the astronaut actually go to the asteroid and begin to extract material," Della-Giustina told New Scientist.

Hitch hiking via asteroids is pretty ingenious, although it may not work in the long term. If a martian colony is established and an emergency arises, we can not simply depend upon asteroids to bring us to safety across space.

What NASA needs to seriously consider is either investing in creating a radiation shield for the astronauts, or finding out faster ways to travel between worlds (via nuclear or momentum from a space elevator). Although radiation shielding is expensive, it would enable us to travel without fear of having our minds reduced to nothing upon arrival on Mars.

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