(ORDO NEWS) — Radiation-blocking shields made from living organisms can help us penetrate deeper into space.
NASA plans to return to the moon in 2024 and possibly establish a permanent human presence there by the end of the decade. There are still many logistical obstacles to overcome, but there is an even bigger, more human problem: space wants to kill you.
Space radiation poses a real threat to the health of an astronaut. If humans are going to spend long periods of time in space – and head for planets like Mars or beyond – we must protect ourselves from this.
The Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us from radiation while we are here, but when we go out into space, our protective blanket disappears. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) receive more than 20 times the normal amount of radiation that earthlings receive in a year.
To protect astronauts, scientists studied an unusually hardy organism found in one of the most radioactive places on Earth – Chernobyl.
The explosion that blew a hole in reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 was devastating. In some places, radiation levels have reached such high levels that radiation could kill a person in about 60 seconds. But several types of mold have been found in the reactor. And they thrive on extreme levels of radiation.
On July 17, a new peer-reviewed study published at bioRxiv repository examines one of these species, Cladosporium sphaerospermum. It is speculated that the mold could be used as a self-healing, self-replicating shield to protect astronauts in outer space. Specialized scientific publication New Scientist reported the results on July 24.
The researchers placed the mold on the ISS for 30 days and analyzed their ability to block radiation. Molds, like C. sphaerospermum, contain a pigment known as melanin, which can absorb radiation and convert it into energy.
The proof-of-concept study showed that molds are able to adapt to microgravity and develop when exposed to radiation. It was possible to block part of the incoming radiation, reducing its level by almost 2%.
The researchers write that one of the main benefits is mold self-reproduction. It will only be necessary to send a small amount into orbit, provide it with nutrients and let it multiply, forming a biological radiation shield. With some modifications, mold can be used to defend bases on the Moon or Mars.
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