Astronauts travelling beyond the Earth's orbit would be at risk of cancer and other illnesses due to their long term exposure to cosmic rays. Some of these energetic particles are spewed forth during outbursts from the Sun. Others come from outside our solar system and are more mysterious in origin.
Slough says the problem could be solved with just a few grams of hydrogen in the form of a plasma surrounding the spacecraft. NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) recently awarded Slough's team $75,000 to explore the feasibility of the idea.
The details still need to be worked out, but the basic approach is clear. A high voltage device on the spacecraft would tear the hydrogen into its constituent protons and electrons. This plasma would then be spewed out into space, creating a cloud around the spacecraft.
There would need to be a wire mesh outside the spacecraft and enclosing the plasma cloud. Electricity supplied to the mesh would keep an electrical current running in the plasma cloud and help confined it near the spacecraft.
The plasma's magnetic field would be a powerful deflector of cosmic rays, equivalent to aluminium shielding several inches thick, Slough says.
Power to the deflector shields, Mr. Spock.
How much does this sound like deflector shields? They should totally call them that. After this I expect them to start working on cloaking devices and a tractor beam.
I tried to weasel some money out of NASA by stretching my research to relate to the genetics of cancer and then to the risk of cancer during space flight. I failed. If only I had come up with a deflector shield or photon torpedo.