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.