Space hazards refer to the events that take place beyond the surface of the earth and that may affect the health of an individual. The study of space is best understood under the subject of astronomy which explains what space is composed of as well as what can be done and what cannot be done in space. Astronauts are best positioned to operate in space since they have studied the universe and understand the risks and the benefits of the operations in space.
There are various hazards that are associated with space which are mainly as a result of the events that are carried out in space. Aircrafts are the most common manmade objects in space as well as other objects that astronauts use in the space operations. Space hazards are mainly as a result of the effects of weather, radiation.
Astronomy refers to the “science that investigates the distribution, composition, physical state, movement and evolution of material in the universe beyond the earth’s surface” (Becker 1). The distribution of matter or energy includes its position, arrangement and frequency over a certain area in the universe or in the whole space. The composition of matter includes its chemical composition qualitatively and quantitatively.
For instance, the qualitative composition of the sun includes hydrogen and helium while its quantitative composition includes the numerical or actual percentages of the substances that make it up i.e. the volume of the sun is made up of 95% hydrogen and 5% helium while its mass is made up of 78% hydrogen, 20% helium and 2% heavy metals (Becker 1).
The physical state of the matter in the universe can either be in the form of “solid, liquid, gas or plasma” (Becker 1). On the other hand, the movement of material in space involves their positional change which mainly involves rotation and revolution. Finally, the evolution of matter in space refers to the theories that have been put across by scholars to explain the origin and the future of matter in the universe. Some of these theories include the steady state, the big bang and the oscillating universe (Becker 1).
Many space hazards occur in the universe every day and not only affect the objects operating directly in space but also technological processes on the surface of the earth such as communication, power grids and others (NASA 1).
The effects of space hazards are so extreme since space is one of the most extreme environments imaginable with experiences of extreme temperature, extremely hot and extremely cold as well as threatening levels of radiation. These are the conditions that aircrafts are subjected to when they are operating above the insulating layer of the earth (Cain 1).
Launching is one of the extreme situations. The space craft is maintained in the space from the pull of gravity by the rocket which enables it to have enough mass and speed thus avoiding the pull of gravity from the much heavier objects near them (Jessa 3). While launching, this very “rocket shakes the air craft violently and batters it with extremely loud sound waves” (Cain 3). These phenomena are capable of shattering the delicate parts of the space craft thus causing space hazards (Cain 3).
The extreme temperatures in space are again prone to causing space hazards on the objects operating in space like the aircrafts. Weather conditions vary extremely “temperatures in space go hundreds of degrees below the freezing point and hundreds of degrees up especially when the spacecrafts are near the sun” (Cain 6).
Though there is no air in space, energy from the sun is transferred through radiation which when absorbed by the spacecrafts, it causes a lot of heating in objects that have such machines as computers that ought to operate under moderate temperatures. Though engineers have put effort to make spacecrafts models in such a manner that they have features that can withhold these conditions, this is not always the case as explained below (Cain 6).
As we have seen earlier, energy in space is transferred through radiation either through “trapped and the transient types” (Cain 8). The trapped radiation is composed of sub atomic particles mainly the protons and the neutrons which are usually trapped by the earth magnetic field thus creating Van Allen radiation fields around the planet (Angelo 124).
It has been noted that, “the transient radiation is mainly composed of protons and cosmic rays which constantly streams in space especially during magnetic storms on the sun” (Cain 8). The transient radiation can be so harmful in that when they collide with electronic circuit, they are capable of interfering with the content of memory, they can cause spurious flow of currents around the object or even burn out computer chips (Cain 8).
Space hazards can also be caused by meteor showers. These refer to the little dust particles that make shooting stars visible to us while traveling through space. They are capable of sand blasting some useful large rays of the solar panels thus affecting their importance (Cain 15).
A NASA-funded study carried out in January 2009 describes the consequences of solar eruptions on communication, power grids and other technology on the surface of the earth, the risks of extreme conditions in space as a result of magnetic activity on the sun and effects of extreme space weather (NASA 1).
According to the study, the sun is the most vital star on the surface of the earth but its contribution towards space hazards is adverse. Apart from “emitting a consistent stream of plasma, it often releases quite a large volume of tons of matter known as the coronal mass ejections” (NASA 5).
The study further confirmed that space weather produces solar storm electromagnetic field which induces extreme currents on wire resulting to various adverse effects. Some of the most common effects of this induction on wires include power line disruptions which results to widespread blackouts and also disrupts communication cables that supports the internet. Extreme space weather produces solar energetic particles and causes dislocation of earth’s radiation belts. (NASA 5)
These phenomena are capable of damaging satellites used for “commercial communications, global positioning and weather forecasting” (NASA 5). The modern advancement in technology did not mark the beginning of its problems with space weather since these problems were recorded since the nineteenth century when the telegraph was invented (NASA 5).
The professor and director of the laboratory for atmospheric and space physics at the University of Colorado really appreciated NASA efforts for beginning the extremely challenging task of investigating on space hazards in a quantitative way. This is because their impacts are equally as much as those of natural hazards on the earth’s surface and need not be ignored.
Space travel health and safety issues
For a long time, space travel has been associated with a lot of accidents and hazards thus leaving the activity to just a small number of highly trained and highly motivated individuals.
The Apollo, an American space program, recorded three major hazards of space travel “1 Mission Fire of January 27, 1986, the Challenger accident of January 28, 1986 and the Colombia accident of February 1, 2003” (Angelo 123). These hazards have made space travel to be approached with a lot of consciousness such that it will remain a highly hazardous undertaking in now and in the near future, unless, something is done about it (Angelo 123).
There are various health and safety issues concerning space travel some of which include:
Launch abort, spaceflight and space based assembly and construction accidents, life support system failure, collisions of space vehicles and habitats with space debris and meteoroids, ionized radiation hazards, psychological stress due to strenuous living conditions and many others. (Angelo 124)
The three major challenges that people living in space face are “the substantial acceleration and deceleration forces when leaving and returning to earth, living and working in weightless conditions for long periods of time and chronic exposure to space radiations” (Angelo 124).
Astronauts and cosmonauts usually experience up to a maximum of six times acceleration as compared to that of the earth’s surface. These conditions result to some physical difficulties such as space adaptation syndrome, feelings of isolation and stress as well as post flight recovery problems.
Microgravity or weightlessness results to bone calcium loss and though most of its other effects recover a few weeks after return to earth, this may take longer especially after a long duration space mission. Space travelers throughout circular and interplanetary are bombarded by galactic cosmic rays, which are very energetic atomic particles that contain protons, helium nuclei and heavy nuclei. These rays expose individuals to excess ionizing radiation doses as compared to the standards set for various space missions and occupations (Angelo 124).
Mars expedition personnel and lunar surface base workers’ are prone to experiencing various psychological disorders, some of which include solipsism syndrome and shimanaghasi syndrome. Solipsism syndrome is a state of mind where a person feels like every occurrence is not real but a dream and is usually as a result of small space base or confined expedition vehicle.
The shimanaghasi syndrome is a feeling of isolation where an individual feels left out even when life is comfortable; a situation which requires proper communication with the earth and careful design of living quarters (Angelo 125).
Livings, traveling through space, working and other space missions have been quite challenging and are yet to be since the ever present dangers and hazards have not yet found a solution. However, there is a group of highly motivated and trained individuals who may continue enjoying the extraterrestrial lifestyle which outweighs any personal risks.
Though space hazards have been a challenge to most astronauts, a few things can be put together to curb the challenge. First, most of the psychological and health issues related to the space hazards can be attended to medically.
Angelo, Joseph. Encyclopedia of space and astronomy. New York. InfoBase Publishing, 2006. Print.
Becker, Gary. Astronomy Survival Website. Astronomy, 1990. Web. April 26, 2011. <http://www.astronomy.org/astronomy-survival/index.html>
Cain, Fraser. “Some of the Hazards in Space” July 27, 2004. April 26, 2011 http://www.universetoday.com/9768/some-of-the-hazards-in-space/
Jessa, Tega. Orbit Universe Today, 2009. Web. April 26, 2011 <http://www.universetoday.com/9768/some-of-the-hazards-in-space/>
NASA. New study reveals hazards of severe space weather . Astronomy, 2009. Web. April 26, 2011< http://www.astronomy.com/en/sitecore/content/Home/News-Observing/News/2009/01/New%20study%20reveals%20hazards%20of%20severe%20space%20weather.aspx>