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Space is a dangerous place. ESA scientists are aiming to learn a little bit more about what it takes to survive in the big empty.

Space is generally not the safest backyard for humans to be playing around in. High on the list of peril are a practical vacuum, near absolute zero temperature and cosmic radiation of all sorts. While vacuum and low temperature are fairly well understood in this age, we are not as well-versed on the effects of radiation and various rays that the human body may be subject to in space.

The European Space Agency is concerned about astronauts and the dangers they may encounter while spending extended time in space. To this end, they have chosen the GSI accelerator facility as a testing ground for the effects of ion beams on human tissues. The GSI facility was chosen for its capability of reproducing all types of ion beams, as in space, astronauts may experience beams made from any of the naturally occurring elements, uranium to hydrogen.

Once free of the Earth's protective atmospheric blanket, space travelers will be subject to a hail of cosmic rays from all directions. Radiation is well known as a carcinogen. It can also simply kill living cells, leading to serious tissue damage in vital organs. Learning more about the problems cosmic radiation can cause will allow scientists and engineers to build safer space craft and suits.

The experiments will likely begin this year at GSI's current facilities and be carried over to their new FAIR accelerator at its completion. The FAIR unit will be able to produce more intense beams than the current accelerator, allowing more research possibilities.





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