Research published in the journal Space Weather warns that massive gaps in our understanding and monitoring of space weather will effectively block US plans for a manned mars space mission. The study, led by University of Warwick researcher Dr Claire Foullon, draws on work that Dr Foullon and colleagues carried out for the European Space Agency on radiation hazards and space weather.
Dr Foullon points to particular concerns about the radiation dangers of Solar Proton Events (SPEs) particularly those that follow Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs - massive clouds of material ejected from the Sun that produce dangerous, high energy, charged particles). One of the largest such events ever recorded arrived at Earth in August 1972 right between NASAs Apollo 16 and 17 manned missions. Simulations of the radiation levels an astronaut inside a spacecraft would have experienced during this event found that the astronaut would have absorbed lethal doses of radiation within just 10 hours. It was simply good luck that this happened between the missions.
Since then a number of satellite missions have been able to give advanced warnings of SPE & CME events and revealed much about their workings but that monitoring and understanding today still only relates to a tiny part of our Solar System - literally just the line between Earth and the Sun. A manned Mars mission will travel far beyond the boundaries of our current understanding and observation. While we have an increasing understanding the impact of SPEs in and around the Earth we have no idea if the same holds true for the geometry of space around the rest of the changing area between Earth, Mars and the Sun. Nor do we know if the current models of what happens in these events between the Sun and Earth can be accurately extrapolated to understand what happens over the greater distances between the Sun and Mars. Dr Foullon believes those knowledge gaps are currently simply too large and too dangerous to allow a manned Mars mission.
Peter Dunn | alfa
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