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Giant Moon Blanket Could Protect Astronauts

Solar flares and powerful cosmic rays can shred DNA and increase cancer risks for future astronauts who might make long-term stays on future moon missions.

As NASA considers this issue in its plans for a return the moon by 2020, a team of college students has proposed a solution: giant blankets.

Engineering students at North Carolina State University (NCSU) designed a "lunar texshield," a layered blanket made of lightweight polymer material.

The outer surface of the shield is a flexible array of solar cells that generate electricity. Underneath, a layer of radiation shielding deflects or absorbs incoming particles, to better protect astronauts in lunar outposts.

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The students entered their design in a NASA-sponsored aerospace engineering competition for college students that will begin in June.

"We had many factors to consider in developing this outpost cover — not just being able to protect against radiation," said NCSU engineering student Michael Sieber in a statement. "The product needed to be as lightweight as possible to feasibly fit on the transportation module, and have the ability to be easily erected by a minimum number of astronauts for immediate use once landing on the moon."

In June, Sieber and his team will pit their blanket against designs conceived by 14 other teams, some of which might be used in future missions.

Unlike the blanket, some of the other designs in the works are more hush-hush. But a few teams have given hints of their proposals.

Georgia Tech teams drew up plans for space-faring convoys of sorts that haul materials between Earth and the Moon, filling up their tanks at orbiting fuel stations. And they had ideas for efficient power grids and how to manage resources like air and water.

The Colorado School of Mines designed a small rescue rover as a lifeline for injured astronauts, and the University of Maryland's team has plans for a lunar version of a helicopter.

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