by Gene Turnbow, Station Manager
The test flight of the unmanned Orion spacecraft has just successfully splashed down at this writing. Eventually Orion’s crew module will contain living, breathing astronauts, so one of the things being tested is how well that module will protect its occupants from the intense radiation in the Van Allen belt that surrounds the Earth.
Starting in March of 2013, a year-long competition called the Exploration Design Challenge was begun among high schools (there were also competitions for middle schools and elementary schools) around the world to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by inviting them help tackle one of the most significant dangers of human space flight: radiation exposure.
Evaluators from NASA, Lockheed Martin, and the National Institute of Aerospace have selected Team ARES from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Virginia, as the winner of the Exploration Design Challenge. The winner was chosen from a group of five finalist teams announced in March 2014.
“This is a great day for Team ARES. You have done a remarkable job,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who helped announce the winning team. “I really want to congratulate all five of our finalists. You are outstanding examples of the power of American innovation. Your passion for discovery and the creative ideas you have brought forward have made us think and have helped us take a fresh look at a very challenging problem on our Path to Mars.”
Team ARES produced a design that received the highest radiation protection score during an online simulation of radiation exposure. They also did additional research on their own, provided extra information about the materials their design uses and estimated the cost for their experiment. Their test module, a small cube mounted inside the Orion spacecraft crew module, contains a set of radiation sensors. These will show how effective their idea for radiation shielding is, compared to the computer simulation. Team ARES was brought to Kennedy Space Center in Florida by Lockheed Martin, the makers of the Orion spacecraft, so that they could watch their experiment launch into space.
The first manned use of the Orion spacecraft is planned to take a new team of astronauts to the Moon. After that, they hope to take it to Mars. Limiting factors for the longer journey to Mars are not only the intense radiation they will encounter when they reach Mars, due to its nearly complete lack of a protective magnetosphere, but the design of the crew module itself. The trip to the Red Planet will take something around six months, one way. That’s a long time to be sitting in one place without even being able to stand up and stretch your legs.
Of the entire launch vehicle, only the crew module will be returning to Earth, to splash down in the Pacific Ocean for recovery. See our main article on Orion’s launch for the full report.
Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 113,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.
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