How NASA Will Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation
Released on August 7, 2019
August 1972, as NASA scientist Ian Richardson remembers it, was hot. In Surrey, England, where he grew up, the fields were brown and dry, and people tried to stay out of the Sun, indoors and televisions on. But for several days that month, his TV picture kept breaking up. “Do not adjust your set,” he recalls the BBC announcing. “Heat isn’t causing the interference. It’s sunspots.”
The same sunspots that disrupted the television signals led to enormous solar flares — powerful bursts of radiation from the Sun — Aug. 4-7 that year. Between the Apollo 16 and 17 missions, the solar eruptions were a near miss for lunar explorers. Had they been in orbit or on the Moon’s surface, they would have sustained dangerous levels of solar radiation sparked by the eruptions. Today, the Apollo-era flares serve as a reminder of the threat of radiation exposure for technology and astronauts in space. Understanding and predicting solar eruptions is crucial for safe space exploration.
Almost 50 years since those 1972 storms, the data, technology and resources available to NASA have improved, enabling advancements towards space weather forecasts and astronaut protection — key to NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon.
Music credits: “Boreal Moment” by Benoit Scarwell [SACEM]; “Sensory Questioning”, “Natural Time Cycles”, “Emerging Designer”, and “Experimental Design” by Laurent Dury [SACEM]; “Superluminal” by Lee Groves [PRS], Peter George Marett [PRS] from Killer Tracks
The Aug. 7, 1972, solar flare was captured by the Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. This particular flare — known as the seahorse flare for the shape of the bright regions — sparked a strong SEP event that could have been harmful to astronauts if an Apollo mission had been in progress at the time.
The lunar rover vehicle during the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972. The lunar roving vehicle -- which was developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center -- was used for collecting rocks and data on the lunar highlands.
GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 126.96.36.199.0