back to article Trips to Mars may be OFF: The SUN has changed in a way we've NEVER SEEN

A drop in the solar wind of a kind never yet seen in the space age has made travel beyond Earth orbit a lot more dangerous, according to boffins – so much so that a manned mission to Mars may not be feasible for many decades. "The behavior of the sun has recently changed and is now in a state not observed for almost 100 years …

  1. Kaltern
    Mushroom

    Nuclear

    When you're out in the cold void of space, with numerous life-threatening scenarios just waiting to come through your airlock, the dangers of nuclear power probably take a bit of a backseat.

    I wonder if the cooling required for nuclear reactors could involve the void?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nuclear

      I think that the fear revolves around the risks in getting the nuclear material off planet, not their actual use in space.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Nuclear

        I wonder if the cooling required for nuclear reactors could involve the void?

        I would doubt it - cooling is the transfer of heat energy from the hot thing into something colder, and whilst space certainly qualifies as colder, it is rather lacking in the critical "something" to transfer into in any useful amounts. Hence why the ideal thermal insulator is a vacuum, such as in flasks etc.

        1. Kaltern

          Re: Nuclear

          But... in much the same way that radiators, well, radiate heat from one place to another, would it not be possible to transfer heat to the cold of space via an external heatsink - radiate the heat from the source via a radiator of some sort directly outside?

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            If I'm not mistaken, they already use radiators on the ISS. Because when you're in space and lit by that open nuclear furnace we have 1,08 trillion brontosaurii away, well it gets pretty hot real quick.

            That heat needs to be evacuated in addition to the heat already generated by the equipment and humans that are there, so some good radiators are probably in use.

            1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

              What ISS does to dump heat is not usable for a reactor

              Quote: If I'm not mistaken, they already use radiators on the ISS.

              Yes they do (ammonia as a working fluid if memory serves me right), but for nothing anywhere near the amount of heat which is dissipated by a nuclear reactor. They also (ab)use the fact that the station is reasonably reflective and heat insulated by orienting it so that the radiator is in the shade thrown by the station.

              The surface area of a purely radiation cooling radiator which operates in the "boiling water coolant" temperature ranges typical for modern nuclear reactors will be enormous. You cannot hide that easily in the "spaceship shade". It will be too bloody big.

              The only solution is to increase the operating temperature so your heat transfer rate per m^2 is higher and thus decrease the radiator size. Getting that done and combining it successfully with a nuclear power generation cycle is a non-trivial engineering problem.

          2. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

            Re: Nuclear

            Heat sinks and radiators (as in household ones) do most of their work via convection of and conduction with the air around them. The thermal radiation part is present (as they are at temperatures above absolute zero), but it's relatively weak in comparison (compare how hot a conventional light bulb filament gets compared to the glass around it for example).

            In space as there's (almost) a complete vacuum, there's (almost) nothing to conduct heat away, and radiation only strongly comes into play when you get to such a high temperature that things start giving off significant electromagnetic radiation in the form of infra-red and visible light (ie glowing red/white hot). And by that point you've probably got other issues to worry about with your spaceship melting.

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Nuclear

            "would it not be possible to transfer heat to the cold of space via an external heatsink "

            yes, but....

            1: You have to get the heat from where it's being generated to the heatsink

            2: You have to make sure your heatsink isn't facing the sun or it becomes a heat collector.

            3: Because there's no convection cooling effects, you need a vast radiator to achieve high levels of radiative cooling

            4: Which means you need a vast sunshade, etc....

            Radiation shielding for humans is relatively easy - very few particles have the energy to penetrate a water jacket a few inches thick and what gamma radiation gets through that can be stopped by appropriate lead sheeting.

            The big problem is getting that much water into orbit without using a nuclear _launcher_ (Orion)[*]. It'd probably be easier to lasso a comet for the raw materials.

            [*] There are loads of nuclear thruster designs which would work in space, but the real engineering problem is getting out of the gravity well and atmosphere in the first place.

            1. tclicot

              Re: Nuclear

              And thus, it follows, we don't EVER have much of a chance to create large, complex,COST EFFECTIVE vehicles to go beyond earth orbit/earth-system, without a colony on the Moon, where, if we assemble and launch from that platform, the "gravity well" problem is diminished to a high degree.

              And maybe even the problems of water and heavy metals (if we can find or make on the Moon) for shielding and fuel and human sustainability.

        2. Curly4

          Re: Nuclear

          The heat would be radiated out into space as infrared radiation.

          But I have another question would the change in the sun effect the earth's climate to increase the temperature?

          1. chris lively

            Re: Nuclear

            >>But I have another question would the change in the sun effect the earth's climate to increase the temperature?

            When the sun, as our primary warming mechanism, experiences changes then those changes obviously show up on Earth.

            In the case of reduced sun spot activity then we are talking about a long term *decrease* in Earth temperatures. Each of the known low sunspot activity events (Sporer, Maunder and Dalton) coincide with colder periods.

            That said, climate is extremely complex. We are receiving less energy from the sun, which results in cooler temps. We are also seeing the oceans absorb quite a bit of energy, again, reducing the temps. Meanwhile our ability to retain the energy that does get here is increasing, which raises the temp. I'm not sure what the net result is going to be over the short term - my guess is fairly static temps.

            However, at some point the oceans will start emitting that stored heat and sunspots will show up again. If we haven't solved the heat retention problem at that point then we'll cook.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Nuclear

              "In the case of reduced sun spot activity then we are talking about a long term *decrease* in Earth temperatures. Each of the known low sunspot activity events (Sporer, Maunder and Dalton) coincide with colder periods."

              Are you asserting that the decrease in solar irradiance is the cause of the cold periods? Because the facts don't support that idea:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_variation

              With a variation estimated at 0.1–0.2% over the last 2000 years, it just doesn't follow that such a tiny variance could cause such major climate swings. And yes, quiet suns do correlate to cold climates, so what is the causation? The only thing that extends beyond the sun (besides irradiance and gravity) is the sun's magnetic field and solar wind, but that leads us towards the theory of cosmic ray flux moderating the earth's cloud cover, an idea that has been "debunked repeatedly," or at least so we're told.

              Hardly matters anyway, since we're all gonna "cook," right?

              1. IvyKing

                TSI isn't the whole story

                The sun puts out much more UV radiation in active periods as opposed to quiet periods, enough so that the ionization of the upper atmosphere increases by more than a factor of two over the quiet periods. Not sure if/how these variations affect the weather, my guess is that the differing levels of UV may affect cloud formation.

              2. TechicallyConfused

                Re: Nuclear

                I agree the 0.1 variance seems insignificant BUT if you actually blow up the scale on that 0.1 you will see that the fluctuations match the Earth's temperature shifts almost perfectly. There is no reason not to accept that very small changed on the sun can have a large impact on the earth. It is, after all, a lot bigger than we are. We are currently moving into a solar activity decline (i.e. less sun spots) and as a consequence the earth's temperature has more or less normalised, even dropped very slightly.

                This is interesting in so far as carbon content in the air is now up over 400 parts per million, a very sharp increase in the last 50 years but temperature has remained steady thus disproving the whole carbon causality of the global warming theory. NASA now thing that the Earth is able to self regulate the effects of carbon and other "greenhouse" gases.

                That said, not sure if we will all cook. I appreciate the sentiment though because we're either going to cook or freeze. Exciting choice!

                1. tclicot

                  Re: Nuclear

                  It would be IRONIC if these cycles of minimums somehow relate in an important way to MAJOR Ice Ages...

                  And if so, we humans, as CO2/CH4/NO..etc. emitters, SAVE the entire ecosystem from another 10-100 thousand-year ICE AGE, by additive heat conservation--only time will tell (maybe so much time that we will not be around to test that hypothesis...)

              3. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Nuclear

                "With a variation estimated at 0.1–0.2% over the last 2000 years, it just doesn't follow that such a tiny variance could cause such major climate swings. "

                The output has varied over 50% in the last billion years (Sun's getting hotter/brighter).

                The issue is that the entire system on earth is fairly finely balanced and we don't know where the short term tipping points are or how much things will move when disturbed away from the current balance. If you've ever played the game of trying to take the bait off a live rat trap without getting your fingers whapped you'll know it doesn't take much movement to have consequences.

              4. chris lively

                Re: Nuclear

                The .1 to .2% variation over 2000 years is far from surprising. If you take any system that oscilates and pick two peaks then you should see a minor variance between those peaks.

                That's not the issue. The variance between the peaks and valleys is quite a bit more important with regards to it's effect on temperature. Note that within the link you provided it even states "variations corresponding to solar changes with period of 9-13, 18-25 and >100 years have been detected in sea-surface temperatures."

                Ergo, it has an impact. Solar irradiance is just one part of the puzzle that is contributing to the "pause" currently being experienced. But that's only of minor importance. What I'm worried about is the situation that will occur when the oceans start emitting their stored heat (which they will) and the sun returns to maximum irradiance (which it also will). Combine that with other factors and we could very well be cooking soon.

              5. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

                Re: Nuclear

                You appear to be confusing solar irradiance and solar wind. SOlar wind's influence is thought to come from the effect of cloud: more wind, less clouds, more solar energy reaches the surface.

            2. Phil.T.Tipp
              Facepalm

              Re: Nuclear

              "However, at some point the oceans will start emitting that stored heat and sunspots will show up again. If we haven't solved the heat retention problem at that point then we'll cook."

              Not buying it. This is pure, unadulterated speculation. The oceans have stubbornly resisted every warmist attempt to discern heat storage (to explain away the utter lack of warming for 18 years plus), and we need the sun's activity to remain high enough to stave off another ice-age. The real incoming threat to mankind (or less dramatically - life as we know it) is of the very cold and icy variety. The 'heat retention problem' and 'cooking' to which you refer is gobbledegook.

            3. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

              Re: Nuclear

              "However, at some point the oceans will start emitting that stored heat"

              Wow, on not much more than 10 years of argo sea temp data, you believe that atmospheric heat is diving into the oceans? It's a THEORY that MIGHT help explain the plateau in temps (that some folk can't even bring themselves to believe is happening).

          2. TechicallyConfused
            Happy

            Re: Nuclear

            Yes, yes it would. Quite a significant effect quite probably. This you tube video talks about exactly how solar variance effects the temperature on earth - specifically talking about the minimums and maximums.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c4XPVPJwBY

            I found this very enlightening.

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: Nuclear

              Forgive my ignorance on cooling matters in space, but would it be possible to cool the reactor coolant with a laser?

              1. Stretch

                Re: Nuclear

                "would it be possible to cool the reactor coolant with a laser?"

                You'd have to get the heat turned into electricity for that for our solid state lasers, and that's kinda what it was doing already. Chemical lasers would not seem to be helpful here at all.

                How about a different approach? The heat is the result of neutrons and gamma, beta and alpha radiation hitting various things like control rods and the reactor shielding. So, design a magnetic chamber fission reactor that has none of those things and instead funnels those particles out of the back of the craft for some nice 3rd Law effect,

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nuclear

            > But I have another question would the change in the sun effect the earth's climate to increase the temperature?

            It may effect or affect climate change, depending on your standpoint on that issue.

            [We at the Grammar Police headquarters have not taken a position on that debate yet.]

          4. Al Black

            Re: Nuclear

            No - A Maunder minimum would in the normal course of events lead to a little Ice Age such as froze the Thames each winter for several decades in Medieval times. This should put the final nail in the coffin of Global warming.

            1. fearnothing

              Re: Nuclear

              I misread this as "such as froze the Thames for several decades each winter"

              Winter is coming.

              1. cordwainer 1

                Re: Winter is coming....

                "Lhude sing Goddamm."

            2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

              Al Black

              The Thames freoze due to the speed of it's flow. Now it flows quicker, and cannot freeze. It was not due to any changes in the temperature.

              It may still be the right answer, but the proof is not in the freezing of the Thames.

          5. Fluffy Bunny
            Boffin

            Re: Nuclear

            "would the change in the sun effect the earth's climate to increase the temperature?"

            Interestingly, no. Incident cosmic rays knocks electrons off dust in the upper atmosphere. These ionised dust particles form the nucleus of raindrops, creating clouds. Reducing the solar wind increases the cosmic radiation, which increases the ionised dust and this increases the cloud cover. More cloud cover means less heat reaching the surface of the Earth and this will reduce the overall temperature.

            We can guess that this is the reason the Earth's temperature hasn't risen in 16/17 years, but I don't have enough reliable information to judge that. Note that I say reliable, I'm not interested in the usual warmist fraud like Gore's famous hockey stick.

            1. NomNomNom

              Re: Nuclear

              The world has continued heating up in recent years, despite the sun going quiet.

              Ocean temperatures are currently the hottest on record for example.

              If the quiet sun has ANY cooling effect AT ALL, then be very afraid because it has been completely overwhelmed by the rising greenhouse gases and means we have an even sharper jump in temperature in store when the Sun picks up again.

              1. TechicallyConfused

                Re: Nuclear

                But that is just it, on average the temperature isn't really increasing significantly. Even the climate change / global warming organisations agree with this. It has completely confounded them, hence the scramble to try and come up with new and better modelling because the ones they had before are so utterly wrong.

            2. bcollie

              Re: Nuclear

              Cloud albeido can increase or decrease temperatures, it is very dependent on the type of clouds, and is an active area of climate change research.

              Increased cloud cover means more water vapor which traps heat and reduces the loss of heat at night.

              However, more clouds means more radiation reflected back into space, lowering temps.

              Clouds are part of a very complicated feedback system.

          6. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nuclear

            The Sun drives both the weather and the climate. There is no such thing as anthropogenic global warming. The Sun is simply a huge hydrogen fusion reactor lacking fine controls. It could burn us all to death in a single flash, or it could go right no just as it has for billions of years. There is no way for anyone to know.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Nuclear

      Your only means of cooling is radiation which is:

      1. Not terribly effective for temperatures under several thousands degrees. You need to make the bloody thing glow to radiate heat.

      2. Not something we have invested into over the years. Cooling through heat transfer, evaporation, etc of all shapes and sizes has been polished to near perfection by several millenia of human engineering. Compared to that cooling solely by radiating heat is in its infancy.

      Putting the problem of getting a reactor safely into space aside, we need to solve the problem of working with coolants (multi-stage if need be) in the 800+ degrees zone (at least) in order to be able to use radiation cooling. If we do not figure it out the weight of the radiator will outweight any benefits of running propulsion off a nuclear reactor (pun intended).

      1. Kaltern

        Re: Nuclear

        Building the reactor externally on say the ISS would be possible, transferring the required materials would be easy, but time consuming (not to mention bloody expensive). I wouldn't recommend building it on Earth and then transporting it - too heavy probably.

        Not that I'm any sort of scientist.

      2. Remy Redert

        Re: Nuclear

        Actually, some decades ago some smart people got together and thought of the problems involved in running a nuclear reactor. They designed something called the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications). It got around the cooling problem by realising that most of the cooling was needed when the nuclear reactor was providing power for propulsion. Which it did in that design by heating an exhaust gas.

        Then they realised that is something called Open Cycle cooling and while they still needed some fairly decent radiators to get rid of the waste heat generated when the reactor wasn't running, they could get away with far less than you'd need to cool the reactor under power.

        Running the reactor in this manner doesn't get you as much D/V as using the reactor only for electrical power would, but it does simplify things. And no, the exhaust is not radioactive.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Nuclear

          "Actually, some decades ago some smart people got together and thought of the problems involved in running a nuclear reactor. They designed something called the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications). It got around the cooling problem by realising that most of the cooling was needed when the nuclear reactor was providing power for propulsion. Which it did in that design by heating an exhaust gas."

          I'd got to just before your comment by the time I'd come up with that idea. Sounds like I was pipped to the post by a few decades.

      3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Nuclear

        Not terribly effective for temperatures under several thousands degrees. You need to make the bloody thing glow to radiate heat.

        Care to guess why the surface of the moon, and indeed the Sahara, get so cold at night?

      4. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Andrew Newstead

      Re: Nuclear

      >I wonder if the cooling required for nuclear reactors could involve the void?<

      Yes, you would use radiators on the shadow side of the spacecraft to radiate the heat into space. Heat management in the vacuum of space is actually quite a tricky thing. With no air or other fluid to take the heat away (like with a CPU heatsink) you have to use radiation and the more heat you generate the larger the radiator has to be. Consequently radiators for a nuclear reactor similar in output to that in a nuclear submarine will have to have a large area, in the order of several hundred to a few thousand square metres, of radiating surface.

      This will only be needed for the power generating reactor though, the nuclear rocket engines would be cooled by the propellant (typically hydrogen) being fed into them picking up the reactor heat. The heated (and expanded) propellant would then go blasting out the nozzle of the engine producing thrust and carrying the heat away too.

      Hope this is of use/interest

      Andrew

    4. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Nuclear

      Ignoring even the cooling of the reactor core...

      Heat Engines (machinery that takes the heat from the reactor and somehow converts the heat energy into useful work) require a cold side as well as a hot side. If it's all hot then it'll stop.

      My understanding is that this is fundamental (a la Watt et al), but I didn't take the class. Corrections welcomed.

    5. JCitizen
      Alert

      Re: Nuclear

      I was sure that a recent study with a new reaction chamber, was capable of a specific impulse that would make a NERVA system unnecessary. In fact, the propulsion was going to need almost as much energy to slow the space craft down as the original acceleration. I seem to recall it used a new microwave chamber to ionize the fuel, and got fantastic specific impulse figures!

  2. Scott Broukell
    Meh

    I knew it . . .

    The reason I hate Maundays so much.

  3. hplasm Silver badge
    Devil

    Space!

    it's a seething radioactive hell - you can't take nuclear power out there and pollute it!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another reason

    As a > 6 foot male, I now have two reasons in one week to not go to Mars... And it's only Wednesday.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Another reason

      >, As a > 6 foot male, I now have two reasons in one week to not go to Mars..

      Yet Total Recall tells you that you have three reasons to go to Mars... three reasons found upon the chest of one woman.

      And yeah, we already know about the radiation... how d'ya think she got three breasts in the first place?

      NSFW: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/22/jasmine-tridevil-surgery-third-breast-total-recall-style_n_5859776.html

      1. cordwainer 1

        Re: Another reason...it's not the radiation....

        it's Eccentrica Gallumbits

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Another reason

      Well if you don't want to go to Mars, why not send your ass?

      If we gave spirit a tow to a hilltop, the solar panels might blow clear and get it working again. A small donkey ought to be able to do that easily...

  5. Alan_Peery

    Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

    I would have thought that the typical male body mass being larger would have meant more body to absorb cosmic rays, and therefore more chance for a mutation that eventually becomes deadly cancer. The numbers above point to some different mechanism -- what is it?

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

      My guess is:

      A male body, being larger, contains a lot more water which will absorb/mitigate a bit of radiation.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

      Nahhhhhh, women are just pansies and can't handle their radiation......

    3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

      more body to absorb cosmic rays, and therefore more chance for a mutation

      I'm not sure that follows. More mass, so more rays total, but probably the same ratio of cells hit:cells missed, so the damage/mutation rate should be constant.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. phil dude
          Boffin

          Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

          As a biology footnote aside - yes, the human egg is very much more valuable than a sperm.

          Evolution solves this problem by make the mothers dividing embryo make the egg progenitor cells after 4 weeks. This is why there is a menopause, only so many are made and then halted in Meiosis.

          Evolution has had billions of years to test the best way to pass on genetic information, and to give birth to an animal with the brain sizes of mammals requires extraordinary copy fidelity.

          And radiation is worse the bigger you get - double stranded DNA breaks are not happy occurrences. Humans posses the machinery to repair DNA damage, but it is only *so good*. Radiation is also a delivery of a lot of energy, and enough to scramble some proteins (think omelet).

          Shields up?

          P.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

            >This is why there is a menopause, only so many are made and then halted in Meiosis.

            Very few mammals exhibit the menopause.... it basically just us and whales. Why would it be a evolutionary advantage for a female to stop producing offspring? Because she can play a role in caring for and educating her existing children and grandchildren, if she extends her life by not wasting resources by menstruating.

            What does this tell us about the social life of whales?

            1. Grikath Silver badge

              Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women? @ Dave 126

              Social life? Probably a lot, or not. Menopause is a population control mechanism that can be switched on. The mammals that do exhibit menopause naturally expect their young to *survive* , and have an extremely long infancy phase. It prevents an older animal to give birth to offspring that will most likely not survive because the parent will most likely die of old age before the child gets out of infancy.

              Given that you can turn it on in mice and rats ( which have a version of it where the older females et infertile with high population pressure... Or you just introduce the right hormone in a lab.) it's expected the same mechanism is pretty much universally present in most mammals. It's simply not triggered under normal circumstances.

            2. Tom Samplonius

              Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

              "Very few mammals exhibit the menopause.... it basically just us and whales. Why would it be a evolutionary advantage for a female to stop producing offspring? "

              Because the genetic quality of the eggs declines significantly with egg? Children born to mothers over 40 exhibit more birth defects, higher infant mortality, and every other problem sort of problem in greater abundance than young mothers.

              So it is not a population control issue. Long lived species eventually have to have a menopause or risk introducing so many flaky genes into the population, that the entire species suffers. Short lived mammals don't need menopause.

              1. Dave 126 Silver badge

                Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

                >So it is not a population control issue. Long lived species eventually have to have a menopause or risk introducing so many flaky genes into the population, that the entire species suffers. Short lived mammals don't need menopause.

                Exactly, but long life is not a given.

                Natural Selection will only select for long life if it aids the survival chances of the descendents or family members of that individual. One can then assume that young whales benefit from having their grandmothers around, be it for protection and/or education.

    4. Hurn

      Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

      While the greater body mass of men does provide some additional shielding, that's not the primary effect.

      The spec is "death due to exposure"

      The article mentions (I'm paraphrasing here) "mostly due to cancer years after the mission is over"

      Who lives longer?

      Women

      Thus, women are more likely to die due to (the long term effects of) radiation exposure, since the longer they live, the better the odds of getting radiation damage induced cancer (20 to 60 years after the exposure).

      Interestingly, this is the opposite to a recent article here stating that women were more likely to go to Mars because they're more resistant to the effects of radiation. Hmm.. more resistant, yet more likely to die from it. Nope, they're not more likely to be sent, unless the trip is one way.

      1. cordwainer 1

        Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

        The longer you live, the better your chances of getting cancer, radiation or no radiation.

        But then, the longer you live, the more likely you are to die in general...

        :-)

        Yes, the women in the Mars Colony may end up with cancer, but they'll probably still be tending the hydroponic garden after the men have turned to fertilizer.

    5. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

      The mass:surface area ratio is important

      1. The First Dave

        Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

        I'm sure it's more complex than that; probably a lot closer to a mass:cross-sectional-area ratio.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why 400 days for men and 300 days for women?

        The men astronauts will have the special suits on for stopping the radiation, but the women will have the clothes off more often for entertaining the man astronauts.

        Also maybe the special suit is not so good at the modern fashion so the lady ones prefer own dress?

  6. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Angel

    With a Maunder Minimum you win some, you lose some

    It's a bit of a bummer to realise that I'll probably never witness a manned (or wommaned) Mars landing.

    But I'm looking forward to the new frost fairs on the Thames.

    1. jabuzz

      Re: With a Maunder Minimum you win some, you lose some

      The lack of frost fairs on the Thames has everything to do with London bridge being replaced and the embankments being built. Put another way the winters of 2010 and 2011, where plenty cold enough for the Thames to freeze, but it came nowhere close. It did not freeze in 1947 and 1963 either. It is unlikely the Thames will ever freeze again in London.

      1. Dan Paul

        Re: With a Maunder Minimum you win some, you lose some (unlikely?? Think again...)

        Yoiu aren't going back far enough in time. Try going back to the middle ages 1670 when all of Europe was in a mini ice age! The Thames froze then and later when the Krakatoa cooled off the whole world in the late 1800's. Since science was not particularly accurate back then (or now), we don't really know what caused the first or later cool downs, we can only speculate.

        http://www.history.com/news/little-ice-age-big-consequences

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: With a Maunder Minimum you win some, you lose some

        "It is unlikely the Thames will ever freeze again in London"

        Which will be a great pity - The Children won't know what a frost fair is ;-(

  7. Tempest8008
    Coat

    None of that matters

    The one thing the human race seems to have a lot of these days, is humans.

    You put the call out, even being 100% transparent as to the risks associated, heck bump it up to 10% REID or even 20% and you'd STILL have hundreds if not thousands of qualified applicants.

    People WANT to get out there. The risks are secondary.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "The risks are secondary"

      They are secondary now. In twenty years you'll have CNN running documentaries on dying of radiation-induced cancer and how the evil Earth Corporations abused the innocence of the First Pioneers to send them to their deaths while benefiting from their work.

      Then the Red Revolution will come, the Humartians will rise and shake off the overbearing yolk of Earth domination to declare their independence during the Chocolate Day, when a shipment of chocolate is overturned in protest.

      Then you'll have the First Interstellar Conflict, when Earth ups the game and sends a Battleship to pound those unruly resistants into the Martian dust reason. The Resistance will go underground while the Battleship will launch a few salvos endlessly replayed by CNN for months on end, and the War will Be Declared Wun by George Bush IV, but a few years later the Humartian Government will have its own Constitution, Bill of Rights, Parliament and Trading Agreement with Earth Corp.

      It's inevitable, because Martian Weed, man. You have to try it to believe it.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: "The risks are secondary"

        "but a few years later the Humartian Government will have its own Constitution,"

        Slowly, but surely, they drew their plans against us.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "The risks are secondary" @Pascal Monett

        Sounds like a great SCI-FI novel plot line. Hasn't that been done already?

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: "The risks are secondary" @Pascal Monett

          Yes, it's a japanese anime: EARTH vs. SPACE NAZIS. Involves dropping O'Neill colonies onto Australia, too. Well done. Stupid kangaroos.

          1. Ben Bonsall

            Re: "The risks are secondary" @Pascal Monett

            There's elements of Neil Asher in there too

      3. Shrimpling
        Trollface

        Re: "First Interstellar Conflict"

        Mars isn't that far away.

  8. ma1010 Silver badge
    Go

    Maybe the Chinese will carry the torch

    Since NASA isn't moving on nuclear propulsion, perhaps the Chinese will be the first ones to reach Mars. They've certainly got the ability to go in that direction if they want to. If the US is too timid to use nuclear power for in-space propulsion, someone else likely will.

    Cooling a reactor in space would be an issue since only radiation cooling works there, but large radiator fins (shielded from the sun) could radiate the waste heat. They would probably have to be fairly large.

    But nuclear is really the only way to go for in-space propulsion. Trying to explore space with chemical rockets is like trying to run a modern airline with gliders -- not going to work.

    1. Semtex451 Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Maybe the Chinese will carry the torch

      How Fitting - The Red Peril on the Red Planet

      oh sorry no its yellow peril on the pink planet

      Mines the tired looking one at the back

    2. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Maybe the Chinese will carry the torch

      I was going to say the Chinese too. Maybe even India at an outside push. Solar sails on the other hand. If only NASA put a bit more into researching that. I know with a solar minimum they would be less effective but even so.

      1. Tony Haines

        Re: Maybe the Chinese will carry the torch

        I think I'd put my money on India.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Maybe the Chinese will carry the torch

          > I think I'd put my money on India.

          The time they finished their paperwork for the mission, the Sun will have turned into a red dwarf and engulfed Mars.

  9. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    "Mars trip may be off". Good one.

    Because, you know, the Mars trip has never actually been on.

    Or did I miss some new and exciting change in the funding schedule?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      > Or did I miss some new and exciting change in the funding schedule?

      There is one whole company, led by a successful entrepreneur, dedicated to getting there.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: SpaceX

        And after they actually start lifting people into LEO they might be taken a bit more seriously I suppose, but the fact is that servicing the ISS generates lost of revenue that enables a private entrepreneur to recoup costs. That's how he got others to buy into the idea.

        As far as everything we know so far, there is no such source of revenue on Mars. Nothing worth going all that way for, nothing material for which third parties will pay.

        Please don't misunderstand: I want humans on other worlds. I want humans properly in space, in a proper habitat, not a bunch of tin cans lashed together into a glorified space shed. A place anyone might go to spend some time in other words, not the preserve of a few highly trained and privileged individuals.

        But unless someone sees profit in it, the Americans are not going. Hell, no-one is sure that anyone could even live on Mars assuming they could survive the journey there - or did I miss the discovery of water reserves on the Red Planet? It is a bit far to go if all it is to be is a giant camping trip.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Project Orion*

    Get there faster and use up the nuclear stockpile - a win-win surely?

    The bigger payload may come in handy too.

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Project Orion*

      Well, yes, Project Orion. But there has always been a bit of hand waving when it comes to the "shock absorber" needed to stop the crew becoming jelly when they switch the rocket on.

      1. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: Project Orion*

        " But there has always been a bit of hand waving when it comes to the "shock absorber" needed to stop the crew becoming jelly when they switch the rocket on."

        I believe they calculated that, and it was feasible. Or at least if you believe the BBC documentary about the ORION project you can find on Youtube. By coincidence, watched it a week ago. Highly recommended (about an hour long, worth it).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Project Orion*

          The 'handwaving' was carefully calculated by a hand waver known as Freeman Dyson.

          In any case best use would be heavy lifting of all the non living essentials first allowing a follow up mission of human beings only once the heavy payload with all the support facilities was succesfully delivered. Thus minimising any issue of shock absorber or indeed any risk of new tech and allowing faster conventional transfer. Basically prefabs in space !

          Another hand waver physicist Ted Taylor showed that with the right designs for explosives, the amount of fissionables used on launch was close to constant for every size of Orion from 2,000 tons to 8,000,000 tons. That's a useful result.

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: The 'handwaving' was carefully calculated by a hand waver known as Freeman Dyson.

            Calculating isn't engineering, as Dyson would be the first to tell you.

            Otherwise we'd have had working fusion reactors for years.

  11. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Devil

    Nukes in space? Only the country of bears in flaming taxis can be of any assistance.

    "Help me, Putin Panslavoni, you are my only hope!"

  12. AJames

    Not the best wording

    "a 3 per cent risk of an astronaut dying due to radiation exposure during a mission is seen as the acceptable limit"

    Yikes!

    Perhaps "a 3 per cent risk of an astronaut eventually dying due to radiation exposure received during a mission is seen as the acceptable limit" might be better.

    1. Vociferous

      Re: Not the best wording

      And the EVENTUALLY should be highlighted. It's not about the astronaut dying during the mission, it's about a 3% increase in the probability of him dying in cancer 20-30 years after the mission.

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Not the best wording

      Out of curiosity, what do they do on one of these missions or even on the ISS in the event that one of the astronauts was to pass away from some unexpected natural cause?

      1. Vociferous

        Re: Not the best wording

        On the ISS they'll no doubt take the body with them back to Earth.

        On a Mars mission they might stow the body and bring it back home, but perhaps more likely jettison it. Burial-at-space, so to speak.

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Or you could use a small asteroid.

    That will buy you a couple of metres of solid rock to sit inside of.

    That way it does not matter how long it takes to get there.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Or you could use a small asteroid.

      Not gonna do much good. Cosmic rays are SO energetic they've been detected under a gol-dang mountain, with all of Earth's atmosphere in between.

  14. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

    What a timid bunch you lot are!

    If you want to use nuclear propulsion of a spacecraft, all you do is re-activate the Orion Project. That used the most mass-efficient nuclear propulsion system yet developed: fusion bombs. The vehicle consisted of little but a huge and very well damped blash shield, a store of nuclear bombs, and (as far away from the blasts as possible) a shielded crew compartment.

    Journey time from Earth to Mars with such a vehicle is weeks or months, depending on distance and acceleration.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: What a timid bunch you lot are!

      Added advantage - can also fight off Traveller Fithp, if necessary.

      Before flight, first check the rings of Saturn for unexpected braiding effects.

  15. CriticalMass

    Can the energy that needs to be radiated not be somehow be converted and used for propulsion instead? Or would that be too inefficient?

  16. A J Stiles

    Radiation Cooling Has Been Done Before

    Radiation cooling has been done before; back in the days of valve electronics, electrodes used to get hot. Look at the anode of any power audio pentode or rectifier diode valve (and note that all the energy that goes through the output stage, which might contain two or more valves, must go through the power supply), and you will see extra metal for radiating away this heat. Some pentodes even have additional radiators on the grid2 support rods, because the second grid can carry a fair current.

  17. Yugguy

    Nuclear pulse FTW!!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Daedalus

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

    I remember reading about Daedalus as a kid in the 70s and thinking how cool it would be.

    1. DanceMan

      Re: Nuclear pulse FTW!!

      "thinking how cool it would be"

      Who needs cooling then?

  18. Marky

    Magnetoplasma propulsion

    There is a newer rocket technology developed by NASA and AdAstra which would reduce the orbital transfer time from Earth to Mars down to about 40 days, significantly less than 6 months. It is called VASIMR, Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket. Can't understand why we haven't heard much about employing this sort of propulsion yet.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: Magnetoplasma propulsion

      Because we don't have any way to power it. They've been talking about 250kW, which is a little over twice the power available on the ISS. If you were happy to have no power, and no thrust while you were in eclipse, you could just about use all the solar arrays of the ISS to do it, until you started moving towards Mars, when thevpower would drop off because of that pesky 4th power rule.

      You'd probably have to look at an active nuclear reactor, but with the cooling issues above. Whereas nuclear thermal doesn't need much extra cooling - the cooling comes for free by heating the gas that you then expell for thrust, thus carrying the heat away.

    2. roger stillick
      Joke

      Re: Magnetoplasma propulsion, pt.2...

      VASMIR isn't an engine burning fuel, it is a less than 100 percent efficient power conversion process that produces thrust by chucking off stuff opposite the direction u want to go...

      IMHO= burning Lithium in a fusion engine makes more sense (we just can't do it yet)...RS.

  19. Thought About IT

    Global Warming Hiatus

    "Starting in about 2006, we observed the longest solar minimum and weakest solar activity observed in the space age."

    Lewis, please ask your pals at the GWPF to mention that fact, every time they go on about "no global warming for 18 years".

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shields Up

      The magnetic field required to deflect cosmic rays is...planet sized, and for real effectiveness star-sized. Even a few Tesla around a spaceship won't have much effect on high energy charged particles, and it won't affect neutral particles at all, so micro-meteorites will just carry straight on.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is why...

    ...our climate is changing then.

  22. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    A serious space effort would center around the development of antimatter production and containment.

    For the reasons why this is attractive, and a complete game-changer* read "Mirror Matter: Pioneering Antimatter Physics" by Robert L Forward.

    He also discusses why antimatter is *un*-attractive as a weapon compared to conventional nukes, in which discussion are the hints of why this will never happen in America - it cannot be economically weaponized and the military sees no remote High Frontier which needs manned presence in order to weaponize it.

    * - Project Orion and the various ion propulsion "solutions" are not game-changers, they merely leverage the existing game in inventive ways.

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      >it cannot be economically weaponized

      Funny they said the same thing about uranium at one time as well.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re:Funny they said the same thing about uranium at one time as well.

        Who said that?

        I don't believe anyone would have said such a thing. Its potential for direct weaponization was recognized and exploited from the get-go by anyone with a clue as to how the trick was to be done.

        The economics of antimatter weaponization are the economics of the energy production, not the money you need to spend to make it, at least, not directly. It will always be cheaper to nuke someone than TC them, and the damage dealt will be more impressive.

        Read the book to find out why. It is counter-intuitive.

        1. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Re:Funny they said the same thing about uranium at one time as well.

          >Who said that?

          The whole world in the early to mid 1930s and Germany all the way through the war.

          "Although it is true that Heisenberg failed to calculate how to build a nuclear bomb with only a few kilograms of pure uranium-235 (he thought it would take tons), the correct calculation was far from obvious. No German scientist gave the matter much attention--after all, getting even a few kilograms would have required a titanic long-range project. They could scarcely imagine asking their government to undertake that in the midst of a dire war."

          http://www.aip.org/history/heisenberg/p11.htm

          P.S. For the record I tend to agree with you about antimatter (Dan Brown you fail) but the future can be very murky.

    2. Mephistro Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      "it cannot be economically weaponized"

      True that, and It seems to me that that's precisely the same reason why thorium reactors haven't been developed. They are perfect for space exploration and many other uses, but thorium can't be used to make huge explosions.

      But I reckon the biggest problem problem with anti-matter is that it's astronomically expensive to obtain and will remain so for a foreseeable future. If we are lucky, our descendants will be able to make relatively inexpensive antimatter in a few centuries and, hopefully, use it for reaching other stars.

  23. asdf Silver badge
    Facepalm

    wait a sec

    Mars hell NASA can't even get people into LEO these days without a little help from their frenemies.

    1. Vociferous

      Re: wait a sec

      Why do you want to go to LEO?

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: wait a sec

        Perhaps because it's a damn good place to start going somewhere else from?

        At the very least, there's 18km/sec less delta-v required starting there.

  24. Squeezer

    Project Orion used small fission bombs, not fusion. Interestingly the same number of bombs (about 1000) are needed to get any size ship to orbit, and since small bombs (<10kt yield) are less efficient and generate the same amount of radiation as bigger ones, the optimum ship size was around 10 million tons deadweight, propelled into orbit by 10kt bombs going off every couple of seconds.

    You can get an awful lot of radiation shielding into that, but anyone watching takeoff might need dark glasses and earplugs even if they were standing on the horizon...

  25. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Cavorite! It's the only feasible way to achieve interplanetary travel.

  26. intrigid

    Outer space will make humanity its bitch. Seems like it will take humans a few more decades to figure this out.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      decades to figure this out.

      I don't belive they ever will. The vast majority of them will be too busy playing Call of Duty: Mars Attacks in deep immersion VR to actually work out how to go there and have a look in real life.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. shields

    No biggie, NASA has this covered.

    I read the paper, the upshot is that ye olde BSCCO circa about 1991 will generate a fairly powerful (33T+) field with windings being switched on and off to shield from particularly nasty bursts.

    The bigger problem is powering the coils, in fact once energized HTSC coils need very little maintenance and fields can be switched between segments to overcome micrometeor damage.

  28. Herby Silver badge

    Propulsion??

    Well, just mine some dilithium crystals, and go from there. Jeez, this is simple solution.

    Scotty, how is the warp drive coming long??

    I'm giving it all I've got Capt'n she doesn't have any more.

    For the humor impaired: This IS humor.

  29. Anomalous Cowshed

    The Decision of the Space Exploration Council of the United Nations

    The moment of truth had arrived. The bell rang, and thousands of heads turned towards the podium at the centre of the huge hall.

    The Great Council was suddenly hushed.

    The ballot on permitting the use of nuclear energy in space exploration had ended in a tie, it was now up to the Chairman of the Council to wield the casting vote.

    He rose, in a cold sweat, his hands shaking slightly from his heightened awareness of the momentous import of the occasion.

    For a moment, he struggled against a sudden flare-up of the dyslexia that had troubled him from childhood. Thanks to his tremendous mental training, he soon had it under control. He cleared his throat, and spoke...and in the process, forever buried the hopes of mankind:

    "You ask me to decide whether we should permit the use of unclear energy in space exploration" said he. "Well, I vote against it. It's very name spells risk and uncertainty".

    The Zwigillian embassador rubbed two of his tentacles together. For the foreseeable future, Deep Space, and the tremendous survival and trading benefits that it held for whomsoever would control it, would belong to Zwigill alone. Mankind would be relegated to watching TV and working in marketing and other paper shuffling jobs. And the Zwigillians would turn them into slaveeeeeees...

    Zwigill the squid awoke with a sudden start. That old dotard Wang Wong had just noisily unlocked the door to the kitchen of the tacky little restaurant. What a weird dream, thought Zwigill, dazed, staring out of his glass tank. Little did he know that Wong's lunchtime menu that day was "fried squid noodles".

  30. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Alien

    I keep saying....

    That I think the focus of the space program should be A) robotic exploration and B) finding ways to lift more mass into orbit more cheaply.

    Robots have obvious benefits, and we need to be able to get more material into orbit to build the heavier spacecraft we need that not only offer more protection from cosmic rays, but are also more resistant to physical obstacles like micro-meteorites. Plus larger/heavier craft can carry more supplies in case missions run longer or need enhanced abilities to make some repairs in space.

    Until then, it's going to be hard to colonize Mars/the Moon/space in general when all you have room to send is 3-5 people per mission.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just a thought

    Ultimate reality TV show.

    If something goes wrong.. well that's unfortunate, but they did volunteer after all.

    Life+50 or a round trip to Mars, at least they had a choice.

    PLUS they are already conditioned to live in small metal boxes from years of experience.

    1. OrsonX
      Paris Hilton

      Ultimate reality TV show.

      This was indeed part of the premise for Red Mars by KSR.

      This was an excellent book with some very well thought out science, philosophy, psychology...., everything! Personally I would have liked the "reality TV" bits to have been longer (i.e., selection & the voyage to Mars). It is really interesting that in order to be selected they [the candidates] effectively all had to lie 100% of the time, the correct selection answer being "for scientific discovery and to boldly go...", whilst the real answer "to get away from everybody, etc" was a no no.

      I've not read Green/Blue Mars. Can anybody here recommend them? Does the quality continue?

  32. Vociferous

    Radiation induced death = cancer.

    The death is not due to the direct effects of radiation, the 3% increase is the increase in lifetime probability to ever develop cancer.

  33. 404 Silver badge

    Damp Squid...

    Sorry... couldn't help it, thats what brain saw - 'The IT Crowd' is new to me... lmao

    Signed,

    Peter File

    lmfao...

  34. Justice
    Trollface

    Team all prepped to go up there!

    Led by some guy by the name of Reed Richards.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mars

    Some of the assumptions here are wrong. It is easier to dissipate heat in space then it is to in the earths atmosphere. The key is how it is done, you still want a radiator to do it, but the radiator is used to also heat the vessel as well as cool the engines, and also to give propulsion.

    There are many designs for a nuclear engine. Here is an older NASA brief on one that you can look at by searching for 636883main_FDR_talk_NIAC_2012_final.pdf (Google it--NASA site).

    Also, as for global warming... A solar minimum like this is exactly the opposite. Without the warming effects on the top of the atmosphere from the stronger solar storms and solar winds, this will lead to a cooling of the earth, such as the referenced mini ice age during the period this was thought to last happen. From my understanding, when the solar activity is at a minimum, the temperature of the sun (Outer Corona) is lower.

  36. Kharkov
    Boffin

    Well if we've got to go faster...

    As others have commented I agree that nuclear thermal rockets are the solution here. They'll get you to Mars faster than the six-month journey offered by chemical rockets. Sadly, I doubt we'll see a NERVA-type rocket in operation anytime within the next 20 years or so.

    The public will hear, "...blah blah technobabble something complicated NUCLEAR STUFF IN SPACE blah blah..." and are highly likely to freak out leading politicians to block the use of nuclear thermal rockets despite the fact that THEY OFFER TWICE THE PERFORMANCE OF CHEMICAL ROCKETS.

    On the other hand, has anyone considered a solar thermal rocket? Much greater performance than chemical rockets, no scary bugaboos, and in the Inner system at least, quite a practical method of getting around.

    Of course it'd take 10 to 20 years of research to get the kinks out but hey, we're not going to Mars in that much less than that.

  37. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Water

    These doses probably assume dosing in a conventionally designed ship (as used now) or even directly out in space. A ship with water and supplies along the outside, shielding the crew within, cuts down on both solar wind particles and cosmic rays.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. water

    Wasn't there an article about storing um, waste in flexible pipes around the craft and mixing with boric acid as a radiation shield?

    "Scotty to bridge, the poop shield is failing, she cannae take much more of this" just doesen't sound quite right....

    Also relevant, used condoms filled with said waste would be great for patching micrometeorite holes in the hull and the outer radiation shielding.

    1. Arbiter

      Is that why they call it

      The poop deck?

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Re. water

      used condoms filled with said waste would be great

      Rule 34, now in interplanetary space.

      (Why used condoms? "We need a used condom! Fire up the pornograph!")

  39. ionracer24

    Why we'd even consider such archaic nuclear technology for space flight is beyond me. There are so many other options to pursue available to us. Shielding weight would be a non issue in the vacuum of space anyways.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Shielding weight would be a non issue in the vacuum of space anyways.

      Plus, there are no dangerous shadows in the vacuum!

      The real trick, of course, is to have the ship travel in whatever direction the vacuum is sucking.

  40. Matthew 17

    How much energy would you need....

    to create your own magnetosphere for your craft?

    The solar wind is electro-magnetic. If you can power large electromagnets you'd deflect the radiation round the hull of the craft protecting the cargo. You'd be surrounded in aurora borealis every time the wind blew which might be nice but more practical than trying to make a heavy lead-lined spaceship?

  41. Arbiter

    PROJECT ORION!

    I can't believe no-one has mentioned this. For those who are too lazy for more than one source there's a good article in Wikipedia. I'm expecting the Chinese to do this. Their tech is nearly ready and they don't care whether the rest of the world approves.

    1. Yugguy

      Re: PROJECT ORION!

      Er, I did. On page 2

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: PROJECT ORION!

        And so did a bunch of other people.

        Pro tip: The comments on any Reg story about interplanetary travel will very quickly come to include multiple posts on Project Orion, nuclear rockets, VASIMIR, etc. This is a small pond with a lot of like-minded fish.

        Here, I'll save us all some time: Project Orion VASIMIR nuclear rockets cooling radiation shielding delta-v robots1. Just link to this in the forums for future such articles and we can skip 90% of the comments.

        (Not that it hasn't been fun, but really - we're clearly at the Frequently Posted Comments stage.)

        1I am suddenly reminded of Snow Crash. Here, doggie!

  42. MrXavia

    The solution is medical, not technological...

    Find a way to repair the damage from the radiation and you will do so much more than just enable long duration space missions.

  43. YetAnotherLocksmith

    Why has no-one mentioned magnetic shielding?

    Shade in space is really, really cold. Put a loop of superconducting wire around the end of the capsule and voila, instant magnetic shrouding for the crew. Add small spots of heavy lead or water shielding at the foot of the bed while the crew sleep feet towards the sun, & job done.

    1. Arachnoid

      Given the previous mentions of issues with heat conductivity and the preference to radiated heat Id say it may not work,

  44. Gary Bickford

    NERVA was ready for flight testing in 1969

    NASA had a nuclear thermal rocket system ready to being flight testing in 1969, called NERVA. This engine was critical to the proposed Mars manned mission to launch in 1978. NERVA was cancelled for political reasons, including certain senators wanting to make a Mars mission impractical and reduce or eliminate NASA's manned space program, and the Nixon Administration's desire to cut spending. Good info can be found on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NERVA. It's really a rather interesting story.

    A NERVA-type engine can provide both launch thrust and very high powered ion propulsion with its ability to generate electrical power in the multi-MW level. To reduce or eliminate issues with potential catastrophic disassembly and radioactive contamination, as well as to provide better tuning to required power levels and instant on/off capability, it would probably be better to use a Thorium-based Molten Salt Reactor design. Thorium is extremely safe in its natural state - there are beaches in India composed of Thorium sand. Using a proton beam starter/trigger, even the tiny amount of Uranium required to start an LTFR reactor up could be eliminated. And the LTFR produces almost no radioactive waste.

    It's time we as a species accept that both travel and living in space is going to involve nuclear and eventually fusion power systems - along with a lot of robotics.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NERVA was ready for flight testing in 1969

      Interesting read, but as for launch viability, I have to wonder. According to the specs given, it seems a short of a launch-capable engine by a factor of 100. NERVA's specs before cancellation were in the range of 300kN, whereas the Saturn V (a known launch-capable vehicle) rates at 34MN. History has also shown us that the fewer the engines you use, the better off you tend to be (during the Space Race, Soviet engines tended to have some technical difficulties that were multiplied because they trended towards using lots of smaller engines in contrast to the American approach of a few honking big ones due to delicate balancing resulting in each engine being a potential SPoF).

  45. Coypu76

    Ongoing project already underway to provide a lightweight shield

    The EU has an ongoing project for a superconducting magnetic field generator to protect space crews from radiation. Project page is here:

    http://www.sr2s.eu/

    Project overview video:

    http://youtu.be/GsZ_wE3kglQ

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Ongoing project already underway to provide a lightweight shield

      Nice thought, but cosmic radiation is a whole other kettle of fish. They're the top end of the EM scale for a reason. We already know they've been able to penetrate the Earth's magnetosphere (which is already bigger than anything we'd probably be able to generate), atmosphere, AND a mountain.

  46. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Half-marks for headline

    Really, you couldn't have gone with something like "Boffins: Sun lazy, useless (for Mars trip)"?

    Also:

    the Sun may be entering a so-called "Maunder Minimum", a lengthy spell of low to no activity. Such a minimum occurred from 1645-1715.

    I've had coworkers who enter a period of low to no activity that lasts from 16:45 to 17:15. Coincidence?

  47. @Formula1Dragon

    Hang on a min, what happened to these new plasma engines. That would take us to Mars within a month... By the time the mission is ready to go, surely these engines would be ready to use. And as they are blue like impulse engines, I like the idea, that we may one day be treking across our galaxy. ;)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Even if they were past the prototype stages, VASMIR is not launch-capable, so you still need a way to get it up into orbit. Right now, the hope is to fit a VASMIR to the ISS, giving it an easier time with course corrections while putting the engine through some space trials.

  48. eldakka Silver badge
    WTF?

    Space Age my arse

    We are not in a space age.

    When we have a permanent civilian-majority base on a body that is not Earth (moon, mars, asteroids), THEN we will be in the Space Age.

  49. Shovel

    They had to come up with a believable excuse now that the money to Mars has been spent. Some where a geek has a really nice car, trophy wife, tropical island, and a Cayman account.

  50. bwright72

    C-14

    The amount of C14 in the atmosphere is determined by cosmic rays... is this change great enough to confuse the archeologists of the future??

    My Physics just isn't good enough for this...

  51. Palf

    A web of solar-powered lasers for lightsail propulsion would be good. Crisscrossing the solar system. First Moon <-> Earth and then Mars <-> Earth. Can be pretty fast, and you don't need to carry tons of fuel, so you accelerate faster.

  52. Zmodem

    better off with my perpetual generators and electro magnetic pulse propulsion drive and get there in a few hours with harrier jump jets to take off from land and just chip off with no hassle into deep space and FLT with a single super charged burst of the 10Mw the generators can go upto

    and my re-enforced toughened graphite hull that made the x-b37 come back with nothing but a scratch you can fix with abit of polymer out a tube

    its not the 60s or 70s, you can easily surive 10 years in a challenger II tank in a nuclear fallout zone

  53. FrankEReed

    Spacecraft artwork not from 54 years ago

    There's an artist's conception of a spacecraft in the article captioned "How they thought we'd be doing it, 54 years ago" and "concept dated 1960 of a nuclear-thermal ship in orbit above Mars". There are several clues that the image was not created in 1960. First, the craters in Mars in the artwork and especially the water-sculpted features strongly resemble some of the more captivating images from the Viking missions in the late 1970s. Second, the solar array on this artist's conception is nearly identical in design to one of the arrays now functioning on the International Space Station. Most likely, rather than being from 1960, this artist's conception is from 1990 or later. Artists' fantasies of Mars exploration in 1960 were much more impressive and usually aerodynamic, like this one: https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2899/14247261164_e5e2223985.jpg

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