Moon has hazardous levels of radiation – A study reveals

A team of Chinese and German scientists reported that astronauts to the moon would be exposed to 200 to 1000 times the radiation we experience on Earth. These radiation levels are two to three times more than they experience today aboard the Internation Space Station, and the moon explorers would require thick-walled structures to protect themselves. 

China’s lander Chang’e 4, named after the Chinese moon goddess, provides the first complete measurement of radiation exposure from the lunar surface. According to the study, this data is vital to NASA and others aiming to send humans to the moon. The study is published in the U.S. journal Science Advances.

The Chang’e-4 lunar probe, photographed from the Yutu-2 rover. The measuring device from Kiel is located on the left behind the antenna. Image: © CNSA/CLEP

According to Thomas Berger, a physicist with the German Space Agency’s medicine institute, “This is an immense achievement in the sense that now we have a data set which we can use to benchmark our radiation” and better understand the potential risk to people on the moon.

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Passengers on a trans-Atlantic flight experience 40 to 100 times more radiation levels; However, they are in for a short duration on these flights compared to astronauts exploring the moon, noted Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber of Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany in his email. The primary risk is cancer. 

According to Wimmer-Schweingruber, the radiation levels should be pretty much the same all over the moon; close to what the models had predicted. 

According to Kerry Lee, a space radiation expert at Johnson Space Center in Houston, the levels measured by the Chinese rover agree with the measurement taken by a NASA orbiter. Lee was not part of the Chinese-led study.

The LND in the laboratory in Kiel before the launch. Image: © Stefan Kolbe, Kiel University

NASA is looking to land astronauts on the moon by the end of 2024, and on Mars sometime in the 2030s. 

Under the new Artemis program, the first pair of astronauts would spend about a week on the lunar surface. This is more than twice long when compared to the time spent by Apollo crews. Once a base camp is established, missions would last one to two months.  

According to NASA, all Orion crew capsules flying to the moon will have radiation detectors and safe shelter. As far as the lander goes, three separate corporate teams are developing their own landers with NASA oversight. The first astronauts of the Artemis program will live in the ascent portion of their lander. 

For lunar stays that last more than a few days, the German researchers suggest building shelters out of moon dirt with walls about 2 1/2 feet thick. Any thicker walls pose the risk of emitting its own secondary radiation when cosmic rays interact with the lunar soil.

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