'Star Trek'-like deflector shield could soon be a reality

June 28, 2013 at 4:25 PM

DIDCOT, England, June 28 (UPI) -- The command "shields up" to protect humans traveling in spacecraft from radiation may soon graduate from the realm of science fiction, British researchers say.

Scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory say they've been testing a lightweight system to protect astronauts from harmful radiation on long voyages, such as a round trip to Mars, who would be exposed to cosmic rays and high-energy particles from the sun contained in solar storms.

Although shielding technology has not quite reached the level portrayed in Star Trek on television and in theaters, the British scientists say it could be possible.

"Star Trek has great ideas -- they just don't have to build it," Ruth Bamford, lead researcher for the deflector shield project at RAL, told CNN.

"The radiation problem is a potential showstopper," she said. "I'm very concerned that the radiation issue is not being addressed very publicly and it's absolutely key."

The RAL researchers say they're investigating the possibility of creating an environment around the spacecraft -- something they're calling a mini magnetosphere -- that mimics the Earth's magnetic field and recreates the protection it offers to people on the ground.

"On Earth, mostly we're protected by the atmosphere but ultimately what the Earth's magnetic field is doing is forming a first line of protection for life," Bamford said.

If such as magnetosphere could be created around a spacecraft is could have the same effect, she said.

"You end up with a constant electric field that can be enough that it actually refracts or deflects enough of the radiation from inside the magnetic cavity that you've formed to protect the astronauts ... enough like the Earth that they can survive."

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