Outer space is considered to be an inhospitable place to live since there is no breathable air and space travel significantly alter your bodies due to increased doses of radiation in the form of high energy charged particles. Radiation is energy diffused in the form of rays, electromagnetic waves, and particles. These high doses of radiation can cause damage to your body cells by breaking up the atoms and molecules. While we don’t know accurately what the effect of several long journeys into space is but we know that there is a high risk of developing many health problems – including back problems, osteoporosis (brittle bones), cancer, and damage to the nervous system.

So you might wonder – where does all this harmful radiation exposure originate? Well, some of it comes from the sun, cosmic rays from unknown regions in our galaxy are also a source – but have by far the smallest effect. We need to keep in mind that space radiation is entirely different and more dangerous than radiation found on Earth. The Earth’s magnetic field diverts away most of these harmful radiations. But for missions further away from the Earth’s protective magnetic field, cosmic rays would be more of a problem.

On its journey to Mars, the Curiosity rover provided crucial data on this and stated that the damage possible was higher than expected.  It noted that a round-trip crewed mission to the planet Mars would expose the astronauts to up to four times the advised career limits for astronauts to expose themselves to radiation of galactic cosmic rays.

There is no denial in stating that space radiation is one of the biggest challenges for us. It’s also true that NASA is underway in developing technologies and countermeasures to ensure a safe and successful journey to the outer space.  Even though our International Space Station sits within the protective magnetic field of the Earth, astronauts are prone to receive over ten times the radiation than what they are exposed to naturally on Earth. Data recorded shows that outside the magnetic field there are galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), solar particle events (SPEs) and the Van Allen Belts, which contain trapped space radiation.

NASA advices its crew to take shelter in an area with additional shielding materials in such situations, but GCRs are much more challenging to protect. These waves are highly energetic particles that come from all over the galaxy and can break through, neutrons, protons, and other particles generated in a cascade of reactions that occur throughout the shielding materials. They are extremely powerful and can break into metals, plastic, water and cellular elements. This intense radiation can sometimes cause a worse radiation environment for the crew.

NASA’s Space Radiation Element Scientist Lisa Simonsen, Ph.D., says. “This ionising radiation can cause structural damage to DNA and may alter many cellular processes.” To prevent such damages researchers are currently developing and evaluating shielding concepts for transport vehicles, habitats, and space suits with state of the art models.

NASA’s missions over the years have relied on complex human-controlled radio systems, but the agency is now openly investigating artificial intelligence to control its radios. These are so-called “cognitive radios” which could keep space networks up and running with increased efficiency and make astronauts available for more essential tasks.

Artificial Intelligence in Space: NASA SCaN Testbed
NASA spacecraft typically rely on human-controlled radio systems to communicate with Earth. As collection of space data increases, NASA looks to cognitive radio, the infusion of artificial intelligence into space communications networks, to meet demand and increase efficiency. The Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Testbed aboard the International Space Station provides engineers and researchers with tools to test cognitive radio in the space environment. The testbed houses three software-defined radios in addition to a variety of antennas and apparatus that can be configured from the ground or other spacecraft. Up: this photo was taken of NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation Testbed before launch. Currently affixed to the International Space Station, the SCaN Testbed is used to conduct a variety of experiments with the goal of further advancing other technologies, reducing risks on other space missions, and enabling future mission capabilities. Down: The SCaN Testbed payload aboard the space station. In April 2013, it began conducting experiments after completing its checkout and commissioning operations. Image Credits: NASA

Experts say that a cognitive radio may be able to restrict the objects that can interfere with communications like Space weather, radiation from the sun etc. The project for developing such cognitive radio’s is underway at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Scientists are trying to explore new ways in which a spacecraft’s radio could adapt to the dynamic nature of space weather by modifying its transmission frequency or cancelling out distortions with the help of machine learning.

Researchers are also exploring the possibilities of cognitive radios to be advanced enough to shut down temporarily to avoid any damage during severe waves of radiation to make things easier for human controllers in such situations. A technology that can analyze and respond to the changing environment in space will always be faster and useful than a person trying to control it from millions of miles away. These cognitive radios might also be able to suggest ground stations in advance and reduce the guesswork around such changes in the space environment resulting in more precision and less wasted time.

Advantages of Using AI to Explore Space for Us

So we know that it is going to take a long time for us to send an AI machine. If we sent one tomorrow based on our current stage of technology, it would take 87,000 years based on the best we have right now, and that’s just to the nearest star system.

Here are some benefits of this technology.

  • Smarter Upgrading
  • Smaller, More Flexible Capacity
  • Simultaneous Deployment & Shared Learning
  • Endless Number Crunching
  • Neutral First Contact
  • Unlimited Exploration
  • Self-Proliferation
  • Reduction of mission costs.

By applying artificial intelligence and machine learning, satellites can control systems without any problem, making real-time decisions without awaiting instruction. AI and ML can also lead to a reduction in radiation damage in comparison to current radio systems, making it last longer and gave astronauts more accurate data and also leading to the discovery of new landscapes without human help.

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