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Author Topic:   Space shuttle and space station radiation exposure

Posts: 542
From: Fort Worth, TX, USA
Registered: Feb 2005

posted 07-24-2012 09:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for benguttery   Click Here to Email benguttery     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
With the passing of Sally Ride to cancer, I just can't help but think about the levels of radiation astronauts received while in space. Although they are all super-men and women, they are human too with bodies not less susceptible to radiation.


Posts: 1287
From: West Jordan, Utah USA
Registered: Dec 1999

posted 07-24-2012 11:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for randy   Click Here to Email randy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA TV has had several specials on radiation in space, and what's being done to minimize the problem. There are areas in the ISS that the crew can go if/when a large solar storm, or CME, is headed this way. Orion is being built with extra radiation protection in mind for visits to the moon and asteroids. Let's hope it will be enough.


Posts: 589
From: Ridgecrest, CA USA
Registered: Sep 2000

posted 07-24-2012 01:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for OV-105   Click Here to Email OV-105     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't think the number of astronauts who have died of cancer are any higher than any other group of people in the same number. There have not been a group of astronauts that flew on the same flight that died of cancer.

Jay Chladek

Posts: 2211
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 07-24-2012 02:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nope, cancer risk doesn't seem to be all that higher than it is for the rest of us (maybe a few small percentage points at most). Looking back on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts, I only recall maybe two of the lunar Apollo guys getting cancer (Al Shepard and Jack Swigert) while others on the same crews are still very healthy by comparison. The others who have died from what I can see have been due to other causes.

Granted I have been a little concerned about the exposure some of the ISS astronauts have gotten of late due to increased solar activity in the past few months. But NASA and Roscosmos monitor those numbers very well with each person from liftoff to landing.


Posts: 262
From: Texas * Earth
Registered: Apr 2011

posted 07-25-2012 12:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cozmosis22     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No significant effect on cancer rate. It may have become an urban myth that there is some special "space radiation" which is immently dangerous to humans. That is the stuff of some really bad old B-movies.

In the late 50s during the 3 to 4 years between Sputnik/Explorer and early 60s Gagarin/Shepard there were a number of dumb "first man in space" monster movies released. They often were produced apparently without any special effects budgets and little undersatnding of scientifiction.

Some involve astronauts turning into "mutants" of one sort or another who return to Earth and create havoc. The fiction of some deadly "universal radiation" lurking out there beyond the atmosphere was merely a plot-tool not based on real science.

This was not only on the big screen; in the US some episodes of the original Twilight Zone & Outer Limits used the same fear of untravelled space. Later on, for some reason, by the Apollo Era, that sci-fi theme had fallen out of favour.


Posts: 3023
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-25-2012 05:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The jury is still out, particularly for crew that operate extended periods beyond the protective enclave of the magnetosphere. And just because cancer itself is not present dosnt mean that extensive chromosome damage hasnt been occurring.

Jay Chladek

Posts: 2211
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 07-25-2012 06:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
True, but each and every astronaut who has flown on a US spacecraft has gotten free medical checkups every year for the rest of their lives to help analyze their bodies for any damage popping up. I've talked to a couple of the more recent astronauts who have expressed concerns about the long term effects of space exposure, but everyone has a little different take on that issue. So you've got some who might be willing to fly as many long term flights as they can while others might only be willing to do it once or twice.

As I understand it, one of the other concerns involves suppressed immune response for long duration crewmembers on a mission. Regular blood and saliva cultures have revealed that the immune system's response in orbit does get subdued a little as certain germs that lie dormant in our systems tend to begin growing in higher concentrations (such as the Chicken Pox virus for instance). So if a condition did occur on a mission, an astronaut might not have the immunity to fight it as effectively during the course of a mission where he or she can't come home easily.


Posts: 368
From: New York, NY USA
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-26-2012 08:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM1   Click Here to Email LM1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is not a matter of science-fiction, it is science-fact that there is radiation in space, on the Moon and on Mars. To lower this discussion to a matter of science-fiction is ridiculous. This IS a serious matter. When men from Earth do return to the Moon one of the first things they will have to do is build a shelter of some kind if they intend to stay for an extended period as is proposed.

Extended-duration Moon missions will subject the astronauts or cosmonauts or taikonauts to solar radiation from solar flares. If the men/women are not protected, this could kill them. If they build a shelter from lunar soil (regolith), the walls must be 10 feet thick. This will not be easy to build in space suits. It has been proposed that robots should be sent to the Moon in advance to build the shelters or at least prepare the soil.

Flying in deep space is a very dangerous proposition. Many Apollo astronauts have reported seeing streaks of light in their eyes. These are cosmic rays. Extended exposure to them could cause chromosome damage or damage to genes or DNA. It has been proposed that astronauts sent on extended missions to the Moon and Mars should be in their 40s or 50s for this reason. The crews cannot just remain in the landing module because the module would have to be lined with a thick layer of lead. It would not be possible to launch such a heavy module to return to the command module in orbit.

Because of radiation, the major goal of such extended missions will be - staying alive.

If we are talking about near-earth orbit, there is still a serious risk for long-duration exposure to cosmic rays. The magnetosphere does not prevent all cosmic rays from reaching the ISS. Most solar radiation & cosmic rays do not reach the earth, but the ISS is more exposed to space radiation.

All times are CT (US)

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