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Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space

Dangers: Outer Space Perils, Rocket


Risks and the Health Consequences of the
Space Environment

Authored By

Dirk C. Gibson
The University of New Mexico
USA
 
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CONTENTS

Foreword i
Preface iii

CHAPTERS

UNIT I: SPACE DANGERS


1. Asteroids 3
2. Near-Earth Asteroids & Near-Earth Objects 13
3. Comets 21
4. Meteors, Meteorites, & Meteoroids 30
5. Space Debris 40
6. Satellites 51
7. Radiation 61
8. Black Holes 73
9. Space Weather 83
10. Centaurs 95
11. Supernovas 105
12. Superbubbles 116
13. Perturbation, Lost Asteroids and the Increasing Number of Space Objects 127

UNIT II: ROCKET RISK FACTORS


14. Rocket Dangers 134
15. Rocket Take-Off Dangers 154
16. In-Flight & Landing Accidents 163
17. Space Saturation 178

UNIT III: SPACEFARER HEALTH & MEDICAL RISKS


18. Sleep Dysfunction 190
19. Bones 203
20. Vision Problem 217
21. Mental Health 228
22. Cardiovascular Issues 240
23. Brain & Neurology 249
24. Space Adaptation Syndrome & Space Sickness 260
25. Digestive & Immune Systems 271
26. Muscles 281
27. Microbes 291
28. Cancer 304

UNIT IV: QUANTITATIVE SPACE DANGER RISK LEVELS


29. Quantitative Risk Estimates of Space Dangers 314
30. Conclusion 324
Subject Index 333

The designed cover image is created by Bentham Science and Bentham Science holds the copyrights for the image.
i

FOREWORD

Today we stand on the brink of the commercial space era. It seems that space tourism is in the
offing, and it may not be long until citizen access to space is available. I believe that Dirk Gibson’s
analysis of space dangers and his basic message is entirely correct; the outer space environment is
exceedingly dangerous, to spacefarers and the planet Earth, but that should not discourage
commercial space development.

There are numerous recent works exploring the dangerous nature of outer space. I am not aware of
any analysis of this topic as comprehensive as Gibson’s. His treatment of space dangers focuses on
three categories of danger; phenomena from space, rocket risks and the medical consequences of
space travel. The research methods employed in this book and the author’s writing style results in
the reader’s exposure to a vast array of sources, including scholarly and popular items, and
traditional print and online material.

Space dangers are not limited to the relatively well-known astronomical entities like asteroids,
comets, meteors, and Near Earth Objects (NEO). Gibson also describes and documents the threats
from space weather, space debris and radiation. In addition, little-known astronomical
phenomenon like black holes, supernovas, superbubbles and centaurs are revealed as potential
space hazards.

Rocket risks are the second type of space hazard qualified and quantified in this book. The
historical record of spaceflight to date has been punctuated frequently by accidents and
catastrophes, and separate chapters document takeoff problems, and those during flight and
reentry. The frightening phenomenon known as space saturation is explored in one chapter.

The medical implications and health consequences of space travel have long concerned space
policymakers and decision makers. The microgravity, vacuum environment of space has serous
effects on spacefarer eyes, brains, hearts, muscles, blood, bones and the neurovestibular and
immune systems. Other negative space consequences involve sleep, appetite, digestion, mental
health issues and cancer. Microbes may well prove to be civilization-ending agents of mass death.

Gibson concludes with an attempt at quantifying the current and future risks from some of these
space dangers. There is an unfortunate cumulative risk effect from space dangers. Even though the
odds of any particular space phenomenon endangering spacefarers or the Earth are relatively low,
the collective aggregate odds are definitely not reason for optimism. The chances of any one of the
potential space dangers described in this book becoming reality are very high. We are overdue for
an astronomical visitor and the scale of destruction would be continental or global.

The point of this book is that space is a dangerous environment. Gibson states that despite the
dangers, he advocates commercial space development, as do I. But a basic premise of our support
for space exploration is full disclosure and understanding of all pertinent risks on the part of all
stakeholders. Every human activity incurs the possibility of some sort of risk, and that is especially
true for transportation. Basic transit modes like riding in carriages, automobiles, ships, trains and
airplanes are potentially dangerous, and these methods of movement were most dangerous during
ii

their initiation into public use. But cost/benefit analysis justifies acceptance of the public risk in
light of the beneficial consequences resulting from industrial development.

John George
Greco Law Group
Nevada, USA
iii

PREFACE

This is a very specialized book, although it touches on a large number of topics in the course of
five main units and thirty chapters. The solitary focus of this research is the description and
documentation of the dangers involved in space travel, and the dangers posed to the Earth by
objects and phenomenon from space. At the dawn of the commercial space era, it is especially
appropriate that work such as this be disseminated.
I am an advocate of commercial space development. Nevertheless, it must be conceded that space
operations are fraught with potential perils and are decidedly dangerous. If space is to be
developed, it is essential that such development proceed as safely as possible. This requires a
complete understanding of the dangers confronted in space, and those likely to threaten the Earth.
My study of space danger begins with a unit on the unique dangers posed by space. There are
about a dozen risks intrinsic to the space environment, including asteroids, meteors and meteorites,
and comets. Near-Earth Objects, Earth-crossing objects, and satellites must be considered, as well
as space debris. Other space dangers include radiation, black holes, space weather, centaurs and
supernovas.
A trio of extra space danger factors is also considered. Perturbation is the initial such factor; it
describes how previously safe orbits can be transformed into threats to the Earth. Lost asteroids are
a second added danger factor, because an unknown number of asteroids threaten the Earth and are
not currently known to us. The final extra space danger factor, collisions, guarantees an endless
supply of space debris.
Transportation dangers are the subject of the second unit of this book. Rocket risks and dangers
are documented, as are take-off, in-flight, and landing difficulties. Space saturation is also
discussed
The medical and health consequences of space travel are examined in this book’s third unit. These
deleterious effects include sleep dysfunction, bone degradation, vision impairment, and
cardiovascular problems. Other space-related maladies include mental health issues, neurological
and brain issues, space adaptation syndrome and the effects on the digestive and immune systems.
Muscle degradation, microbes and cancer are also factors in space medicine.
Quantitative estimates and projections of the dangers posed by space are the topic of the fourth and
final unit. The statistical risks and odds of space danger actualization are presented.

Dirk C. Gibson
The University of New Mexico
USA
E-mail: dirkcgib@unm.edu
DEDICATION
To Susan, with puzzles and love.

This e-book is dedicated to all of the stakeholders of the


commercial space industry. They all have important stakes,
and collectively they will create a thriving and safe global
access to space.
UNIT I: SPACE DANGERS
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 3-12 3

CHAPTER 1

Asteroids
Abstract: This initial chapter considered the threats posed by asteroids in space and to
the Earth. Asteroids were defined and exemplified through examination of 99924
Apophis, which will pass close by the Earth on April 13, 2029. The origins of asteroids
in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud were documented and explained, and the role of
iceteroids in the formation of asteroids was mentioned. Asteroid families and groups
were discussed. It was noted that only a small number of the estimated million asteroids
of about one-kilometer in diameter are known. It was documented that smaller asteroids
pose the biggest risk to the Earth and spacefarers. The results of a joint NASA/FEMA
simulation of an East Coast asteroid strike were provided. The danger of asteroid orbital
shift was recognized. It was concluded that a sizeable asteroid impact with the Earth is
inevitable. The significant number of asteroids was revealed through estimates of their
quantification from a variety of sources. Earth-crossing asteroids were defined,
explained, exemplified and quantified. A pair of potentially dangerous asteroids was
considered. The existence of water on Ceres was documented.

Keywords: Asteroid, asteroid belt, asteroid families, asteroid groups, ceres,


Dictionary of Minor Planet Names, Federal Emergency Management Agency,
iceteroids, juno, jupiter, kuiper belt, minor planet, National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, NEAT, NEO Coordination Center, oort cloud, orbital shift, pallas,
quantification, vesta.

1. INTRODUCTION

This chapter defines and documents the threats posed by asteroids to spacefarers
and those residing on planet Earth. Asteroids will be defined and explained, and
their cosmic origins uncovered. It will quickly become apparent that these
celestial objects are among the most dangerous objects in our universe. Earth-
crossing asteroids in particular are considered to be potential dangers to the Earth.

2. DEFINITION OF ASTEROIDS

They reside in “a cosmic trash pile,” the “shards, pebbles, boulders and country-
sized chunks of rock and metal, battered and ancient, all but the very largest
irregular in shape. Astronomers used to refer to asteroids as the vermin of the
skies” [1]. But that is an unfair characterization; indeed, these swift and stealthy
cosmic entities are “haphazard fragments. leftovers from the accretion process
that built the planets more than 4600 million years ago” [2]. Asteroids are also
included among the phenomenon known as minor planets.
Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
4 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Asteroids vary in size. Ceres, the largest, is approximately 650 miles, or 1,000
kilometers across. Most are considerably smaller. Peebles (2000) suggested that
asteroids are “mountains in the sky. Some are worlds in their own right, others are
the irregular splinters of collisions long ago, while still others are merely orbiting
boulders” [3].

3. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ASTEROID IMPACT

On April 13, 2029, an asteroid named 99924 Apophis will make a very close
approach to the Earth, passing between our planet and some of the orbiting
satellites. It is about 250 meters wide, and an Earth impact would generate
approximately 900 megatons of energy (ten times more powerful than the largest
nuclear device detonated to date). Although it is believed that there will be no
collision at that time, there will nevertheless be a problem, the keyhole effect [4].
99924 Apophis will pass so close to the Earth that our planet’s gravity will alter
the asteroid’s orbit. Plait (2008) explained the keyhole effect, “There is a region
of space called the keyhole such that if Apophis passes through it the orbit will be
changed precisely enough that on its next return in 2036, Apophis will impact the
Earth” [5]. And this particular phenomenon is a serial space danger, “That
keyhole isn’t alone; there are dozens of keyholes, thousands” [6]. The odds of the
2029 close call precipitating a collision seven years later are one in 45,000 [7].

4. ASTEROID BELT

“Over 90 per cent of asteroids are in the main belt also known as the asteroid
belt,” Ridpath (2006) suggested [8]. The majority of known asteroids exist within
this region of space located between the orbits of Mars (1.5 AU) and Jupiter (5.2
AU). The belt itself lies from 2.125 AU to three and one-third AU from the Sun
[9].

The belt contains more than a billion asteroids more than 1.2 miles (2 km) long,
but “it is not crowded; thousands of miles separate asteroid from asteroid” [10].
There are gaps in asteroid distribution within the asteroid belt, called Kirkwood
gaps, due to the gravitational effects of Jupiter [11].

5. KUIPER BELT & OORT CLOUD

There is a definite structure organizing the main objects populating the Milky
Way. The Sun resides at the center, with planets arranged outward. Then, from
about 40 AU to nearly 10,000 AU is the Kuiper Belt, with “millions of iceteroids”
Asteroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 5

[12]. Iceteroids are pre-asteroids, awaiting the opportunity to leave their remote
cosmic location and orbit closer to the Sun. Asteroids emanate from this section
of relatively deep space.

The Oort Cloud is the next cosmic structure encountered, at the far border of the
Kuiper Belt. The Oort Cloud extends to an estimated 100,000 AU. “Trillions of
iceteroids” populate the Oort Cloud [13].

6. ASTEROID FAMILIES & GROUPS

There is a second dimension of structure to the asteroid population of the


universe. Not only do most of them exist in the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud, but
there is also more intricate and important organizational development. Asteroids
coexist within families, and oftentimes families operate within groups.

Families of asteroids are believed to be from a single parent object, broken into
numerous smaller pieces. Ero, Koronis and Themis, the three largest families,
have been found to be “compositionally homogenous” [14].

Groups, on the other hand, are “a collection of asteroids that move in typically
similar orbits.” An asteroid group can contain several families of asteroids. Three
near-Earth asteroid families include the Amor, Aten and Apollo groups [15].

7. RELATIVELY FEW DANGEROUS ASTEROIDS ARE KNOWN

It is believed that there are approximately thirty asteroids with diameters larger
than 200 km, and that each is known. Similarly, astronomers claim that virtually
all of the asteroids of 100 km size have been identified. But it is suspected that
only about half of the 10-100 km-sized asteroids have been discovered to date
[16].

However, still-smaller asteroids can comprise a bona fide space hazard. “Of the
estimated 1 million asteroids bigger than 1 km across, only a tiny percentage are
known” [17].

8. SMALLER ASTEROIDS POSE THE GREATEST RISK

There has been an assumption among some astronomers and space policy analysts
that the greatest threat from asteroids would result from the largest such objects. It
seems reasonable to conclude that the more substantial the size of the space
missile, the more dangerous it is. But larger objects are easier to detect while
6 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

smaller-sized space items can cause substantial damage. “The biggest hazard from
asteroids right now is the city-bursting airbursts, not the civilization- bursting
impacts from 1-kilometer-diameter objects that has so far been the subject of most
astronomical surveys,” noted Jay Melosh, an astronomer associated with Purdue
University. According to Bill Ailor, a space debris expert at the Aerospace
Corporation, the greatest danger lies in a smaller space rock that strikes before
being detected [18].

9. NASA/FEMA ASTEROID SIMULATION

A meteor of sixty-two feet in diameter arrived undetected at 42,000 mph over


Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February of 2013. Nearly 2,000 people were injured,
dozens suffered skin-blistering sunburn and approximately seventy were
temporarily blinded. The space object struck with the strength of 40 Hiroshima-
sized nuclear bombs [19].

This unexpected event triggered a sense of urgency among salient space safety
policymakers. “The U.S. government gained a new sense of urgency after
Chelyabinsk, quietly holding a disaster drill earlier this year in Washington to
simulate what would happen if a slightly bigger space rock threatened the East
Coast” [20]. The findings of this disaster simulation were impressive in the extent
of predicted damage and death. 78,800 could die in the initial impact and from a
49-foot tsunami wave [21].

10. ASTEROID ORBITS MAY CHANGE

We know that most of the asteroids reside within the asteroid belt on orbits. At the
present time it does not appear that any of these asteroids are on a collision course
with the Earth. But that could change. Plait (2008) conceded the orbital shift risk,
“While the majority of all known asteroids orbit the Sun in the main belt, not all
of them do. Various processes, gravitational and otherwise, can change the shapes
of the orbits of some main-belt asteroids over time” [22].

11. ASTEROID IMPACT ON EARTH IS INEVITABLE

Is an asteroid impact on the Earth likely? Or would it be realistic to refer to such


an event as unlikely? The unfortunate answer to this question is a decidedly
pessimistic one—another asteroid impact on the Earth is inevitable. One recent
study concluded that, “An impact is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when” [23].
Asteroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 7

12. QUANTIFICATION OF THE NUMBER OF ASTEROIDS

How many asteroids are there? Estimates vary considerably, and there is a variety
of sources to consider. Both verbal and quantitative estimates can be examined.

“Many thousands of asteroids have been individually identified,” Milton (2007)


realized, and Van Pelt (2005) referred to “tens of thousands” of them [24]. Reynolds
(2001) observed that “There were initially about seventy smaller bodies that broke
into the thousands and thousands of asteroids that now form the belt” [25].

“Several hundred thousand asteroids are known today,” a 2008 source claimed
[26]. Berenstein (2002) quantified the incidence of asteroids verbally at “hundreds
of thousands” [27]. Subsequent scholarship by Tyson corroborated Berinstein’s
main finding on the number of asteroids precisely [28].

A variety of precise and projected quantitative estimates can be considered. At the


turn of the century, the 1999 count of asteroids stood at 10,000 [29]. Three years
later, it was reported that in excess of 20,000 space objects had been officially
designated as an asteroid [30]. As a result of the asteroid identification project
NEAT, in 2000 it was reported that the official asteroid count stood at 23,061
[31]. Moore (2002) reported that the number of asteroids “exceeded 25,000 during
the year 2001” [32].

Other asteroid counts are considerably higher. One 2013 online source referred to
600,000 asteroids [33]. Ian Ridpath declared that, “there are well over a billion
asteroids,” and he mentioned “billions of space rocks. asteroids” [34].

13. DEFINITION OF EARTH-CROSSING ASTEROIDS

Earth-crossing asteroids are those whose orbit crosses that of the Earth [35].

14. EARTH-CROSSING ASTEROIDS ARE CLOSER THAN THE MOON

Some of the Earth-crossing asteroids are very close to our planet. Berinstein
(2002) noted, “Earth-crossing asteroids. Many of the most dangerous of these
little bodies are easier to reach and land on than the Moon” [36].

15. QUANTIFICATION OF EARTH-CROSSING ASTEROIDS

Zubrin (1999) reported 200 known Earth-crossing asteroids, and described an


estimated 2,000 such space objects [37]. Another 5,000 asteroids in the Main Belt
8 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

have the potential to threaten our planet, bringing the total to approximately 7,000
[38]. Heppenheimer (1979) estimated that there was a total of 500 to 1,000
asteroids larger than one km on an Earth-crossing orbit [39]. More recent
estimates can be considered. Gonzales and Richards (2004) noted about 1,250
such space objects [40].

16. EXAMPLES OF EARTH-CROSSING ASTEROIDS

It might be informative to consider a couple examples of Earth-crossing asteroids,


to enhance our understanding of these powerful cosmic entities. We will examine
a pair of Apollo-class asteroids, Toro and Toutalis.

Toro was discovered in 1948 by Carl Wirtanen, subsequently lost and


rediscovered in 1964. Radar observation reveals a dust-covered rocky surface. Its
closest approach to the Earth brings it within 0.13 AU of our planet [41]. Toto is
also known as minor planet 1685.

Toutatis is a binary asteroid, and it is believed to be particularly dangerous to the


Earth. It is one of the largest Earth-crossing asteroids, measuring 4.5 km x 2.4 km
x 1.9 km. It was not discovered until 1989, in part because of its “eccentric” four-
year orbit, crossing just inside the Earth’s orbit and then sojourning deep into the
main asteroid belt [42].

Toutatis is considered to be an especially dangerous Earth-crossing asteroid for


three reasons. This asteroid poses extra risk, because “the plane of Toutatis’ orbit
is closer to the plane of Earth than any known Earth-crossing asteroid” [43].

Another factor is the unpredictability of Toutatis. Darling (2004) noted that


because of this asteroid’s frequent close approaches to the Earth, “its trajectory
more than several centuries from now cannot be predicted” [44].

Toutatis is problematic for a third and final reason. It has a chaotic orbit. Darling
(2004) emphasized that out of all of the Earth-crossing asteroids, “the orbit of
Toutatis is thought to be one of the most chaotic” [45].

17. A PAIR OF POTENTIALLY PROBLEMATIC ASTEROIDS

As this book was being finalized two asteroids came to the attention of the world
astronomical community. Because both were considered potential threats to the
Earth, they will each be briefly considered.
Asteroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 9

A. 2013 TV 135
Ukranian astronomers announced in late 2013 that “an asteroid might collide with
Earth in a couple of years,” a Russian news agency reported [46]. Rio Novosti
observed that an observatory located in the Crimean Peninsula announced
discovery of 2013 TV 135 [47]. The asteroid was measured at approximately
1,345 feet in diameter, and was “approaching Earth at a potentially dangerous
trajectory” [48].

“The astronomers calculated the date of a potential collision as Aug. 26, 2032, the
news service said, but they acknowledged that the odds of an impact as 1 in
63,000,” Rio Novosti stated [49]. The impact would be the equivalent of 3.5
megatons of TNT [50].

B. Bennu
The Earth may be threatened by a second newly-discovered asteroid named
Bennu. It has been estimated that Bennu is a third of a mile in diameter [51]. The
odds are given at 1 in 1,800 of a collision in the year 2183 [52]. “Scientists say if
Bennu hit the Earth, it would gouge a crater four miles wide and cause widespread
damage for miles around,” according to one media account [53].

The University of Arizona announced in January of 2014 that it “is leading a $1


billion project to land an unmanned craft on an asteroid that may pose a hazard to
Earth” [54]. The Arizona Republic noted that a project called OSIRIS-Rex was
scheduled for launch in September, 2016 [55]. The project mission is to bring
back a sample of the asteroid [56].

18. WATER ON CERES

Ceres is considered to be the largest asteroid, although some refer to it as a dwarf


planet. The NASA space probe Dawn was sent to investigate Ceres, and
according to Chang (2014), the initial information was encouraging [57]. Using
the Herschel Space Observatory, a team of researchers from the ESA “detected
water plumes spewing from two regions on Ceres” [58]. Chang (2014) recalled,
“This is the first definitive evidence of water on Ceres” [59].

For the sake of comparison, we can also briefly consider Vesta. The second-
largest asteroid, “Vesta is dry and rugged” [60]. Chang (2014) reported that
Vesta’s scars “reveal it got whacked twice by smaller asteroids” [61].
10 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

19. NUCLEAR DEFENSE

This is probably not an optimal idea. It sounds like a Hollywood feature film, and
in fact there was a Bruce Willis movie along these lines. Newman (2014)
reported, “Researchers are designing a spacecraft equipped with a nuclear bomb
that could blow apart an approaching asteroid less than a week before” it struck
the Earth [62]. The auspicious name given this marvelous weapon? It was
christened the Hypersonic Asteroid Intercept Vehicle [63].

The plan would be to land on the asteroid first and bore a hole into which the
explosive device would be placed [64]. It was alleged that this method would
increase the destructive power of the bomb by a factor of twenty and “leave only a
tiny amount of remaining debris to strike Earth” [65]. I am totally skeptical of this
claim, which I consider to be irresponsible and beyond credibility.

This project was proposed by Bong Wie, who is affiliated with Iowa State
University, at the 2014 NASA Advanced Concepts conference at Stanford
University [66]. Wie suggested that his proposed system be coupled with the
proposed Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System [67].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
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[2] Garlick, Visual Guide, p. 142.
[3] C. Peebles, Asteroids: A History. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2000, p. x.
[4] P. Plait, Death from the Skies. New York: Viking Press, 2008, p. 24.
[5] Plait, Death, p. 24.
[6] Plait, Death, p. 24.
[7] Plait, Death, pp. 24-5.
[8] I. Ridpath, Astronomy. New York: D.K. Publishing, 2006, p. 124.
[9] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 275.
[10] Ridpath, Astronomy, p. 124.
[11] Darling, Universal Book, p. 275.
[12] R. Zubrin, Entering Space. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999, p. 182.
[13] Zubrin, Entering, p. 182.
[14] Darling, Universal Book, p. 43.
Asteroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 11

[15] Darling, Universal Book, p. 43.


[16] Darling, Universal Book, p. 43.
[17] Darling, Universal Book, p. 43.
[18] S. Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor Strike Now Considered More Likely: Russian Blast Has Caused
Concern,” Associated Press. Albuquerque Journal, p. A8, November 7, 2013.
[19] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[20] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[21] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[22] Plait, Death, p. 24.
[23] Plait, Death, p. 19.
[24] J. Milton, Ed., Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of Astronomy. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2007, p. 22; M. Van Pelt, Space Tourism. New York: Copernicus Books, 2005, p. 195.
[25] M. D. Reynolds, Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania:
Stackpole Books, 2001, p. 9.
[26] Plait, Death, p. 20.
[27] P. Berinstein, Making Space Happen. Medford, New Jersey: Plexus Publishing Inc., 2002, p. 360.
[28] N.D.G. Tyson, The Pluto File: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, 2009, pp. 30-31.
[29] Peebles, History, p. 127.
[30] Darling, Universal Book, p. 39.
[31] Peebles, History, p. 206.
[32] P. E. Moore, Ed., Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 32.
[33] Space News, “Asteroid Watch Center Opened by ESA,” redOrbit, March 12, 2005. [Online].
Available: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space, 4th June, 2013, p. 1.
[34] Ridpath, Astronomy, p. 124.
[35] Darling, Universal Book, p. 155.
[36] Berinstein, Making, p. 245.
[37] Zubrin, Entering Space, p. 134.
[38] Zubrin, Entering Space, p. 134.
[39] T.A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns. Ontario, Canada: Stackpole Books, 1979, pp. 202-3.
[40] G. Gonzales, and J.W. Richards, The Privileged Planet. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing
Corporation, 2004, p. 73.
[41] Darling, Universal Book, p. 491.
[42] Darling, Universal Book, p. 491.
[43] Darling, Universal Book, p. 491.
[44] Darling, Universal Book, p. 492.
[45] Darling, Universal Book, p. 492.
[46] “Scientists: Asteroid Unlikely to Hit Earth,” Albuquerque Journal, p. A6, October 18, 2013.
[47] “Asteroid Unlikely,” p. A6.
[48] “Asteroid Unlikely,” p. A6.
[49] “Asteroid Unlikely,” p. A6.
[50] “Asteroid Unlikely,” p. A6.
[51] “Project to Land on Asteroid Planned,” Albuquerque Journal, p. A3, January 5, 2014.
[52] “Project,” p. A3.
[53] “Project,” p. A3.
[54] “Project,” p. A3.
[55] “Project,” p. A3.
[56] “Project,” p. A3.
[57] A. Chang, “Dwarf Planet Shows Signs of Water,” Associated Press/Albuquerque Journal, p. A10,
January 23, 2014.
[58] Chang, “Dwarf,” p. A10.
[59] Chang, “Dwarf,” p. A10.
[60] Chang, “Dwarf,” p. A10.
[61] Chang, “Dwarf,” p. A10.
[62] S. Newman, “Nuclear Shield,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B4, March 11, 2014.
12 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[63] Newman, “Nuclear,” p. B4.


[64] Newman, “Nuclear,” p. B4.
[65] Newman, “Nuclear,” p. B4.
[66] Newman, “Nuclear,” p. B4.
[67] Newman, “Nuclear,” p. B4.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 13-20 13

CHAPTER 2

Near-Earth Asteroids & Near-Earth Objects


Abstract: Near-Earth asteroids are asteroids, but a particular type of that space object.
They are generally considered as the most dangerous to the Earth, because of their
proximity to our planet. In this chapter near-Earth asteroids were defined and described.
The number of NEAs and large NEAs was estimated, and recent examples of NEAs
provided. The threshold for being included as an NEA was noted as being 3 million miles
from the Earth. The existence of NEA streams was documented, and binary NEAs were
documented. The odds of an NEA strike in the next decade were estimated at one in
10,000. An increasing number of NEAs was noted. Near- Earth objects were also defined.
The Near Earth Object Coordination Center and NASA’s Near Earth Object program were
discussed. Near-Earth Objects were quantified and the number of potentially hazardous
objects was noted. It was also clear that the number of NEOs is increasing.

Keywords: Amor group, Apollo group, asteroid streams, Asteroid 1994 XM 1,


Aten group, bimodal echoes, binary asteroids, Canada, Herzburg Institute of
Astrophysics, linear, NEA, Near Earth Object Program, Ottowa, Palomar
Observatory Asteroid Survey, solar system, Spaceguard Foundation, Spacewatch
Program, The Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Team, threshold, University of Arizona.

1. INTRODUCTION

In the previous chapter we introduced the notion of asteroids as potential threats


to the Earth and spacefarers. This chapter focuses on a very specific aspect of
asteroids—near-Earth asteroids (NEA). These might be the space objects of
greatest potential concern to space policymakers and those tasked with protecting
the Earth from space dangers.

Near-Earth asteroids are defined in this chapter. The size of NEAs will be
discussed and quantified. It will be noted that asteroids within three million miles
are considered to be NEAs. The existence of NEA streams will be acknowledged,
and the reality of binary NEAs documented. The odds of an NEA impact within a
decade are shared, and recent instances of NEAs will be provided. The increasing
number of NEAs will be demonstrated.

2. DEFINITION OF NEAs

An asteroid may qualify as an NEA if its orbit carries it close enough to the Earth
that a risk exists of a future collision [1]. Simply put, NEAs are very near the
Earth.
Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
14 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

3. NEA SIZE

Some are very small and most are smaller than a basketball. Of course they range
in size and shape but most have been rounded off on their sojourn through the
universe. Near-Earth asteroid size is worthy of consideration.

There are three groups of near-Earth asteroids, the Aten, Apollo and Amor
groups. Large NEAs, bigger than one km in diameter, are not rare in our Solar
System. In the Aten group it is thought that there are roughly 100 asteroids of that
size. There are an estimated 700 Apollo NEAs of one km in diameter or larger,
and there are approximately 1,000 Amor group asteroids of that size [2].

Eros is a 21-mile long NEA. It has an “irregular-shaped solid body” [3]. Most
space objects are much smaller and they tend to diminish in size until space
weather erodes them altogether.

4. NEA THRESHOLD

The term “near-Earth asteroid,” contains a salient adjective, ‘near.’ Unless this is a
purely figurative use of language then the essential meaning of this term involves
proximity of a space object to the Earth. The solitary question is: how close?

The answer is simple. Three million miles. Reynolds (2000) reported that, “NEAs
are considered dangerous to the Earth if they pass within three million miles” [4].

5. NEA STREAMS

Meteor streams are a matter of common knowledge for most of us. But not
everyone is familiar with the notion of NEA streams.

It is believed that NEA streams were initially identified by two sets of researchers
at about the same time. Jack D. Drummond of the University of Arizona
examined the orbits of 139 NEAs while Ian Halliday and two colleagues at the
Herzburg Institute of Astrophysics in Ottowa, Canada, studied camera network
photographs of 89 North American fireballs [5].

6. BINARY NEAs

It is possible to classify and categorize near-Earth asteroids in a number of ways.


We can assess their size, composition, shape and other intrinsic variables. It is
also possible to identify an unusual phenomenon, binary asteroids.
Near-Earth Asteroids & Near-Earth Objects Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 15

Using the radio telescope to observe asteroid 2201 Oljato at Arecibo between
June 12-17, 1983, Steven Ostro of Cornell University received “indications of
bimodal echoes.” Six years later close analysis of asteroid 1989 PB confirmed the
reality of binary asteroids and NEAs [6].

7. ODDS ON NEA IMPACT WITHIN A DECADE

It is a safe bet that many people are interested in the ‘odds’ on any given subject.
Some of us are inclined to wonder what is the likelihood of certain outcomes and
eventualities. When it comes to space dangers, the odds take on a frightening and
ominous tone. The odds are not in our favor. The Near Earth Asteroid Tracking
Team is an office in NASA charged with keeping track of NEAs. According to a
publication from this team, “Is Earth in Danger of Being Hit by an Asteroid?” the
chances are one in 10,000 that the Earth will be struck by a NEA within a decade.
This document noted, “Actually, some 100 bodies already have been discovered
on orbits which take them so close to the Earth’s orbit, they could hit in the far
distant future” [7].

8. RECENT NEA EXAMPLES

In December of 1994 a NEA came very close to the Earth. Asteroid 1994 XM1
passed within 105,400 km of the Earth. Nearly a decade later, an NEA the size of
a football field went sailing by the Earth at 23,000 miles per hour. Asteroid 2002
MN was within 120,000 km of our planet, less than one-third the distance from
the Earth to the Moon [8].

9. INCREASING NUMBER OF NEAs

One might think that the supply of asteroids would be finite. Haven’t all of them
already been created by whatever cosmic forces resulted in their genesis in the first
place? In fact, there is an increasing number of asteroids, and consequently of NEAs.

Collisions between asteroids in the asteroid belt create an unknown but sizeable
number of NEAs each year. Peebles (2000) suggested that about 100 new 1-km
sized asteroids will be created every million years [9].

10. RELATIVELY FEW NEAs HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED

It would be reassuring if all of the potential NEAs have been located and
identified. There would be reason for enhanced public confidence and belief in
16 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

our safety if there was a complete inventory of all or almost all NEAs. However,
the facts are quite to the contrary.

“It is believed that approximately 2,500 asteroids fit into the Earth killer category;
however, it is estimated that only ten per cent have been discovered,” Reynolds
claimed [10].

11. DEFINITION OF NEO

What is an NEO? According to Moore (2002), an NEO is an asteroid or comet


with an orbit that brings it close to the orbit of the Earth. The criterion for an NEO
is that the perihelion distance be less than 1.3 AU [11].

Darling (2004) offered a similar perspective. An NEO is either a near-Earth


asteroid or an extinct short-period comet on an orbit that intercepts or almost
intersects with the Earth [12].

12. NEO COORDINATION CENTER

It is reassuring that an organization exists to address the hazardous potential of


NEOs. We might consider one such organization, the NEO Coordination Center.
Other similar organizations will be discussed.

Space News reported that the European Space Agency recently inaugurated the
NEO Coordination Center, “The Center will also serve as a focus point for
scientific studies aimed at improving NEO warning systems and providing near-
realtime data to customers, including scientific bodies, international organizations
and decision-makers” [13].

13. NASA NEAR EARTH OBJECT PROGRAM

This program within NASA was a little-known office in the space agency before
the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor strike. The aftermath of this astronomical incident
led to federal government simulation of a similar event on American soil.

That led to the outing of this obscure NASA program. The Near Earth Object
program was publicized when program director Lindley Johnson was interviewed
in connection with newspaper coverage of the Russian meteor strike [14].
Near-Earth Asteroids & Near-Earth Objects Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 17

14. MINOR PLANET CENTER

The Minor Planet Center serves an important if ad hoc role in the protection of
our planet from NEOs. Observatories around the world as well as other
astronomical reporters send data to the Minor Planet Center on a regular basis
[15].

The Minor Planet Center keeps “a database of all known asteroids and comets in
our solar system” [16]. Darling (2008) observed that the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is where the Minor Planet Center is based and
gathers, analyses, checks and disseminates information about the minor planets
[17].

The Minor Planet Center “operates under the auspices of Commission 20 of the
International Astronomical Union,” and is funded through subscription services
sales [18]. It works with The Institute for Theoretical Astronomy in St.
Petersburg, Russia, to publish the Ephemerides of Minor Planets, the orbital
elements of all numbered asteroids, and their opposition and ephemerides data
[19].

Peebles (2000) recalled the formation of the Minor Planet Center in 1947 by the
International Astronomical Union in Copenhagen, Denmark [20]. Peebles (2000)
mentioned that the Minor Planet Center “undertook three main activities;”
including the publishing of the Minor Planet Circulars, gathering and filing
asteroid observations, and calculating orbits and positions for NEOs [21]. The
SAO administers not only the Minor Planet Center, but also the Fred Lawrence
Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, the Multiple Mirror Telescope at
the Whipple Observatory, the Oak Ridge Observatory and the Submillimeter
Array [22].

15. SPACEGUARD

Spaceguard was perhaps the single most important NEO surveillance project of its
time. It deserves detailed discussion, and accordingly four main topics will be
considered. These include; 1) The Spaceguard concept, 2) The Spaceguard goal,
3) The Spaceguard participants, and 4) Spaceguard problems.

A. The Spaceguard Concept


We might consider the Safeguard project and familiarize ourselves with this front
line of defense against NEOs. The Safeguard Foundation was created on March
18 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

26, 1996, “to encourage international participation” in the global effort to locate
all NEOs [23]. The actual genesis of Spaceguard had began much earlier with the
1993 release of The Spaceguard Survey. This document advocated
implementation of a world-wide network of a half-dozen automated space
telescopes, of two to five meters in aperture diameter [24].

B. The Spaceguard Goal


“Spaceguard’s goal is to discover every object one kilometer (half a mile) or
bigger in size, track its orbit, and see if it poses a collision danger to Earth,”
according to one account of the astronomical endeavor [25]. Unfortunately, the
Chelyabinsk incident forced revisions of our parameters, since an object much
smaller than one km was responsible for considerable damage and even personal
injury.

C. Spaceguard Participants
Numerous participants actualized the Spaceguard safety net. These include the
Kitt Peak National Observatory, the Lowell Observatory Near Earth Object
Search, the Big Sky Survey, the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking program, and the
Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project. Two other similar
institutions, the University of Victoria in Canada and the Observatoire de la C’ote
de Azur in France, also assisted in the Spaceguard project [26].

D. Spaceguard Problems
The Spaceguard idea appears to be fundamentally sound, but there was a
problem—resources. Burnham (2000) claimed:

The problem with the searches up to now is that, while they have proven that the
concept indeed works, they have been chronically understaffed, underequipped,
and underfunded. And discouraging political hurdles remain. For example, a
productive Australian NEO search was shut down in 1996 for budget reasons,
despite international protests from scientists [27].

16. QUANTIFICATION OF NEOs

It is difficult to ascertain with precision the number of near-Earth objects. But we


can consider a quartet of estimates and by doing so attain a better idea of the
range of possible incidence of NEOs.
Near-Earth Asteroids & Near-Earth Objects Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 19

“There are more than 600,000 known asteroids in our Solar System, and 10,000 of
those are considered NEOs due to their orbits,” Space News (2013) reported [28].
A very similar figure was reported by CNN (2013), “NASA says 9,672 objects
have been classified as Near-Earth objects, or NEOs, as of February 5” [29].

Another pair of estimates depicted a substantially less significant phenomenon. A


federal government project costing $4.1 million annually in the NASA budget,
Project Safeguard, “had found roughly 4,680 NEAs” [30]. That led to a new total
of 4,744 NEOs [31]. Last and least, in terms of NEO quantification, Gonzales and
Richards (2004) reported that there were 1,250 NEOs [32].

17. POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS NEOs

Not all NEOs are considered equal in terms of their risk hazard level. Although all
of them are relatively close to our planet, or they would not be included as an
NEO, there is a special type of NEO known as a potentially hazardous NEO.

“More than 1,300 Near Earth Objects have been classified as potentially
hazardous to Earth, meaning that someday they may come close to or hit Earth,”
CNN reported in 2013 [33].

18. INCREASING NUMBER OF NEOs

It is likely that recent developments in NEO detection will lead to the location and
identification of new asteroids and comets. That in turn will exacerbate the
difficulty of the task confronting space policy decision-makers in their efforts at
protecting the Earth from NEOs. Alan Boyle, in his popular Cosmic Log blog,
recently posted, “Because of the Pan-STARRS system and the Large Synoptic
Survey Telescope, awareness of NEOs will likely increase dramatically. This, in
turn, could lead to a rise in the number of NEOs that are of ‘elevated concern,’
and possibly the discovery of an unavoidable ‘cosmic Katrina’” [34].

“Astronauts and other space experts are calling for the formation of new
international organizations to monitor the threat of a cosmic collision with a
comet or asteroid,” Boyle (2008) reported [35].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.
20 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 401.
[2] Darling, Universal Book, p. 353.
[3] M.D. Reynolds, Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania:
Stackpole Books, 2001, p. 10.
[4] Reynolds, Falling Stars, p. 14.
[5] C. Peebles, Asteroids: A History. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2001, p. 68.
[6] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 74.
[7] Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Team, “Is Earth in Danger of Being Hit by an Asteroid?” 2012.
[Online]. Available: http://imagine.gisc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/danger.htm. Accessed 4th
June, 2013, p. 3.
[8] Darling, Universal Book, p. 402.
[9] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 70.
[10] Reynolds, Falling Stars, p. 11.
[11] P.E. Moore, Ed., Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 277.
[12] Darling, Universal Book, p. 353.
[13] Space News, “Asteroid Watch Center Opened by ESA,” redOrbit. Retrieved on June 4, 2013
[Online]. Available: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space. Accessed 4th June, 2013, p. 2.
[14] S. Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor Strike Now Considered More Likely. Russian Blast Has Raised
Concerns,” Associated Press. Albuquerque Journal, p. A8, November 7, 2013.
[15] “So, About That Asteroid Near Earth,” CNN.Com, (2013, February 7). [Online]. Available:
http://cnn.com/2013/02/07/us/asteroid-approach-earth. Accessed 4th June, 2013, p. 3.
[16] CNN.Com, “That Asteroid,” p. 3.
[17] Darling, Universal Book, p. 38.
[18] Darling, Universal Book, p. 38.
[19] Darling, Universal Book, p. 38.
[20] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 30.
[21] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 30.
[22] Darling, Universal Book, p. 451.
[23] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 205.
[24] R. Burnham, Great Comets. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 203.
[25] Burnham, Comets, p. 204.
[26] Burnham, Comets, pp. 26-7.
[27] Burnham, Comets, p. 207.
[28] “Asteroid Watch,” Space News, p. 2.
[29] “That Asteroid,” CNN.Com, p. 3.
[30] T.D. Jones, “Searching Out Cosmic Disaster, and Opportunity,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 8, p.
18, August 2007.
[31] Jones, “Searching Out,” p. 18.
[32] G. Gonzales, and J.W. Richards, The Privileged Planet, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing Inc.,
2004, p. 73.
[33] “That Asteroid,” CNN.Com., p. 2.
[34] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Panel Calls for U.N. Group to Address NEO
Threats,” Daily Launch, October 1, 2008.
[35] AIAA, “Panel Calls,” p. 4.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 21-29 21

CHAPTER 3

Comets
Abstract: Comets, like asteroids, are considered a threat to those on planet Earth. There
is some belief that comets pose a substantially greater risk than asteroids. This chapter
defined and described comets. The concept of great comets was discussed and
exemplified. Vast numbers of ‘iceteroids,’ which may be understood as pre-cometary
cosmic phenomenon, are thought to populate both the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud.
The number of comets was discussed. Comets have random orbits due to their
composition and orbit and the implications of this phenomenon were explained. The
devastating nature of a comet impact on the Earth was considered. It was noted that
there will most likely be relatively little advance warning of the approach of a killer
comet. The impressive durability of comets was discussed. The concept of a comet
shower was postulated. Comet groups were discussed. The Rosetta study of the
Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet was explained.

Keywords: Advance warning, ballistic missile, coma, comets, dust, gas, gravel, great
comets, hydrogen, ice, inert, interstellar grains, ion, ISON, lead time, microscopic
voids, Naval Research Institute, particulate matter, perihelion, random orbit.

1. INTRODUCTION

Comets have caused planetary havoc on the Earth before, and it is thought
inevitable that they will do so again and again. These random space objects are
like wild cards or jokers in that their idiosyncratic erratic orbit potential makes
them uniquely dangerous to others in the universe. The essence of the comet is a
mixture of ice, gas, and particulate matter.

This chapter will introduce readers to the intrinsic nature of the comet. They
emanate from the outer dimensions of the universe, and their orbit around the Sun
may result in their destruction or the alteration of their orbit. Great comets will be
considered, and we will examine estimates of the number of comets. The origin of
comets in the Kuiper belt and the Oort Cloud will be examined. Comets have
random orbits which makes them unpredictable. It will be made clear that a comet
impact on the Earth would be devastating.

2. DEFINITION OF COMET

Comets are composed of icy centers, perhaps with a metallic core in some cases.
They have a conglomerate structure, which accounts for the extremely low

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
22 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

density, less than half that of water. The comet’s interior is characterized by
“microscopic voids, plus interstellar grains coated with particles of ice, all loosely
packed or semi-welded together” [1]. It is “an inert body wrapped in a layer of
dust” [2].

Darling (2004) referred to comets as small objects, usually only a few kilometers
across, comprised of ice chunks and frozen gas containing small pieces of rock
and dust, and oftentimes a rocky core. When they leave the Oort Cloud or Kepler
Belt comets have a frozen core, or nucleus, which upon approaching the Sun turns
directly to gas without first transforming into water in a process known as
sublimation. Outside the nucleus is the coma, a brightly visible cloud of water
vapor, carbon dioxide and other neutral gases. This is enveloped within a
hydrogen cloud, an enormous (millions of km in size) fragile and temporary
“envelope of neutral hydrogen.” Following closely behind all of the
aforementioned material is the dust tail, composed of dust particles blown off the
cometary nucleus by gas emissions. The dust tail can stretch ten million km in
length and is the part of the comet visible to most people. Finally there is an ion
tail made up of plasma but also including cosmic rays and solar streamers
resulting from close contact with solar winds [3].

3. GREAT COMETS

Certain comets have attained the designation of ‘great comet.’ These are generally
long-period comets that have achieved exceptional brilliance in the night sky, and
sometimes even in daylight.

A. The Great Comets of 1811 & 1843


The great comet of 1811 was bright during September and October of that year. It
could be seen by the unaided eye for nine months, and was referred to by Leo
Tolstoy in War and Peace. The great March comet of 1843 was visible only in the
southern hemisphere, and outshone any comet seen in the previous seven
centuries. Its tail was an estimated 300 km long.

B. The Great Comets of 1861 & 1882


The great September comet of 1882 was discovered just prior to reaching the
perihelion stage, and it grew ten times brighter daily as it streaked towards the
Sun. The great comet of 1861 was a mere 0.13 AU from the Earth on June 30, and
the tail was 100 degrees long in the vicinity of the north polar region of the sky
[4].

 
Comets Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 23

4. VAST NUMBERS IN KUIPER BELT & OORT CLOUD

“The comet zone is thought to have two major components, an inner disk and an outer
shell. The disk is known as the Kuiper Belt. The shell is the Oort Cloud, with its inner
surfaces beginning toward the outer part of the Kuiper Belt and its extremities tapering
off roughly two light-years from the Sun,” Ferris noted [5]. Darling (2004) suggested
that comets are remnants from the formation of the universe, “and are believed to exist
in vast numbers in the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper belt” [6].

It might be mentioned again that the Oort Cloud is believed to contain trillions of
iceteroids, embryonic comets in the making [7].
5. NUMBER OF COMETS
The number of comets might be smaller than you think. Darling (2004) noted that
approximately two dozen comets are seen annually [8]. Overall, Ridpath (2006)
quantified the total comet population at 2,000 [9].

6. RANDOM ORBITS

Our universe is, generally speaking, an orderly place. There is the authority
imposed upon every celestial body by the dominant power in the solar system,
gravity. As a result, planets and stars and asteroids and meteors all proceed on
their eternal sojourns on defined and relatively stable orbits.
All except comets. Comets are the exception to the universal rule of orbital
uniformity. Plait (2008) explained the reason:

Comets are lovely, wondrous specters in the sky. Unlike asteroids,


comets are like dirty snowballs: rock, gravel and dust mixed in with
ice holding it all together. When they get near the sun, the ice melts.
Many comets have pockets of ice under the surface, and when those
sublimate the gas vents out in a jet. This acts like a rocket, pushing the
comet around. If the comet is spinning—and most of them are—this
means the comet will be pushed around randomly. That makes it
extremely hard to predict their orbit, and that much harder to land a
rocket on them, or use a gravity tug [10].

7. COMET IMPACT WOULD BE DEVASTATING

It is widely believed that the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was
the result of a comet impact. At that time about three-fourths of life on this planet

 
24 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

became extinct, immediately through the blast effects and fires and subsequently
through destruction of the food chain. The consequences of a future comet strike
would vary depending upon the size of the comet and the location of the strike.
Water covers most of the surface of the planet, but giant tsunamis might be
unleashed in the aftermath of a comet strike in an ocean. This would result in
considerable loss of life and property damage in coastal areas which typically are
heavily populated.

Land impacts are statistically less likely but probably more destructive. If a major
metropolitan area was located at ground zero of a comet strike the immediate loss
of life would be staggering. The death toll could range from the thousands to
several million with the potential for millions more injuries and the complete
disruption of life as it is commonly known. After the comet impact, large chunks
of fiery material would be launched into space. These intercontinental ballistic
missiles would be sent into space and would reenter the atmosphere and crash into
the Earth elsewhere, starting new fires and disrupting life in places far from the
impact site [11].

8. LITTLE ADVANCE WARNING

“But comets are wild cards,” Plait (2008) remarked [12]. He added that, “They
aren’t confined to the solar system plane, and can come literally from any part of
the sky.” Why is this important? It means that a comet might catch us off guard or
unprepared in the future.

Comet Hale-Bopp was one of the brightest on record. The nucleus of this space
object was an estimated twenty-five miles in diameter. Yet this huge object,
“which was one of the brightest ever seen, was only discovered two years in
advance of its passage of Earth” [13].

The issue is lead time. It takes time after a potentially dangerous space object is
discovered to take countermeasures and prepare civil defense responses. The
unpredictability and stealthy nature of comets makes them particularly dangerous
space objects.

9. COMETS ARE DURABLE

In light of their elements, comets are surprisingly durable and cohesive objects.
They might be comprised of ice, dust, gas and gravel, but they can be tough
astronomical objects. Consider the case of Comet ISON.

 
Comets Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 25

In November and December of 2013, ISON captivated the global astronomical


community. Karl Bottams, of the Naval Research Laboratory, remarked that,
“Never one to follow convention, ISON lived a dynamic and unpredictable life,
alternating between periods of quiet reflection and violent outburst. Comet ISON
leaves behind an unprecedented legacy for astronomers, and the eternal gratitude
of an enthralled global audience” [14].

What made this comet so entertaining? Dunn (2013) suggested, “ISON was
making its first visit to the inner solar system after travelling from the Oort cloud
on the fringes of the system, home to countless icy bodies, most notably the
frozen balls of dust and gas in orbit around the Sun, known as comets” [15].

ISON may have challenged the Sun and survived to orbit another day. Dunn
added, “NASA turned all its space eyes on the Sun-grazing comet throughout the
year, watching as ISON advanced ever closer. Even scientists were left wondering
whether the comet would survive its encounter with the Sun from 730,000 miles
out” [16].

10. COMET SHOWERS

There has not been a comet shower for a very long time, if in fact there ever was
one. But one astronomer has postulated the possibility of such a phenomenon, and
this hypothetical astronomical phenomenon would be a terrifying thing indeed.

“The phenomenon has been called a ‘comet shower,’ and if such a thing ever
really occurs it is not just deadly but perhaps more fantastically awesome and
beautiful than any sky display seen by human eyes. If devastating impacts are to
be guaranteed and the mass extinctions thus explained, then possibly a thousand
million comets would have to rain on the inner solar system in under a million
years,” Schaaf (1997) speculated [17].

The nature of comet showers was vividly characterized by Schaaf (1997), “What
would a comet shower be like? Every night the twilight glow in the west would
descend to reveal an awesome fan of the tails of several dozen bright comets,
some even overlapping. there might be more comets visible to the naked eye than
stars” [18].

The potential longevity of the comet shower phenomenon is considerable. A


comet shower “would supposedly last for many thousands of years, perhaps for a
million years,” it was suggested [19].

 
26 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

11. COMET GROUPS

It is possible to categorize comets into groups, hence the term, comet groups.
Milton (2007) defined a comet group as a classification of comets with relatively
similar characteristics [20]. Comet groups are dissimilar to asteroid groups. While
asteroids in a group travel through the universe in close physical proximity, the
classification of comets is based entirely on the shared characteristics [21].

Comets groups are exemplified by the short-period comets under the gravitational
influence of Jupiter which have six to eight-year orbits. And the sungrazers,
another comet group, derive their name from their habit of skimming the outer
layers of the Sun’s surface [22].

12. ROSETTA STUDY OF CHURYUMOV-GERASIMENKO COMET

The European Space Agency sent a “comet-chasing” spacecraft named Rosetta


into space two- and-a-half years ago, destined for a rendevouz with the
Churyumov-Gerasimeko comet. On January 21, 2014, at 7:20 p.m., the comet
reawakened eight hours after receiving an alarm clock message to reactivate [23].

“We made it,” exclaimed Andrea Accomazzo, Rosetta Spacecraft Operations


Manager, when Rosetta checked in with the ESA Mission Control facility in
Darmstadt, Germany [24]. He added, “The signal from Rosetta is up there, you
can see it on the screen. It’s a big success for everybody” [25].

Rosetta was the initial mission to orbit and land on a comet. The first ESA deep-
space probe, Giotto, was sent to investigate Haley’s Comet in 1986. Two previous
NASA probes were sent to study comets in the last twenty years [26].

13. PROJECT STARDUST

Berkowitz (2012) has written about Project Stardust, the first space probe
launched to take samples from comets in their natural habitat, space. The comet
Wild 2 was selected, and in 2004 the space probe intercepted the comet [27]. The
probe passed within approximately one hundred fifty miles of the two-and-a-half
mile wide nucleus of Wild 2, and penetrated the coma of the comet, comprised of
“a fuzzy halo of dust and ice ejected, geyser-like, from the comet’s icy core as it
approached the Sun” [28].

The key to mission success was the aerogel collector. This screen-like device was
virtually weightless but strong enough to prevent micrometeorite penetration [29].

 
Comets Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 27

The aerogel collector scooped up the microscopic comet debris and stowed it
away for transport to Earth [30]. The probe completed a three-billion mile trip in
2006 when “a special return capsule” landed in the Utah desert [31].

The mission cost on the order of $200 million in the NASA budget and to
taxpayers [32]. What was the result? “Thousands of tiny cometary particles, all in
all less than a milligram of cometary material,” smaller than a grain of table salt
[33]. The composition of the material was astonishing to NASA scientists—they
discovered the ringed carbon molecules known as polyclyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons (a characteristic component of diesel fuel), along with oxygen,
nitrogen and carbon molecules [34].

14. HALLEY’S COMET

This is the most famous or best-known comet, and it is named for the man who
first computed its orbit and predicted its return in 1758, Edmund Halley. Records
of the appearance of this comet date back to 240 BCE [35].

In 1986, during the most recent visit of Halley’s comet to our vicinity in space,
five different spacecraft engaged in scientific study, including Europe’s Giotto,
the Japanese Sakigake and Suisei studies, and twin Russian Vega probes [36]. The
nucleus was photographed by Giotto and determined to be 16 by 8 km [37]. The
comet has an albedo of 0.04, spins on its axis once every 3.7 days, has an
Aphelion of 35.3 AU, a perihelion of 0.587 AU, eccentricity of 0.967, an
inclination of 162.3 degrees, and a period of 76.2 years [38].

15. COMET TAILS

We end this consideration of comets with a tale about the tail of this space object.
As we learned earlier, there are actually two types of comet tail, one made up of
dust and another comprised of ions. And these tails (or tail) are noteworthy.

“But the coma is not what makes comets so awe-inspiring—it’s their enormous
tails. This led the Aztecs to call them ‘smoking stars,’ and the name is remarkably
descriptive,” Burnham (2000) realized [39].

Comet tails have been blamed with causing considerable cataclysm on Earth.
Mallove and Matloff (1989) noted, “Even today, they contend, many viral and
bacterial plagues are due not to the migration and evolution of terrestrial
organisms, but to alien organisms reaching Earth’s biosphere after a brush with a

 
28 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

comet’s tail. A similar view has been expressed by physicist and science fiction
writer Gregory Benford and David Brin in Heart of the Comet. This perspective
is, of course, quite controversial [40].

Astronomical entities comprised of cosmic dust and gas is a legitimate cause of


concern. Winters reported in his Discover ‘zine piece, “How a Cloud of Space
Dust Could Wipe Out Life on Earth,” this ominous possibility, “If this were some
1950s sci-fi thriller, the Doomsday Cloud would loom dark and ominous in the
evening sky. Each night more stars would wink out along its edges. The cloud
would sweep past Jupiter, swallowing it whole, and race on toward Earth. There
would be an inky darkness at noon” [41].

Winters (2008) referred to “recent observations and numerical simulations”


pertaining to cosmic dust and gas clouds [42]. He noted, “The solar system may
plow into a cloud of dust and gas a thousand times denser than the space we travel
through now” [43]. The eventual implications of this planetary immersion in dust
would be severe.

“This interstellar fog could reduce the sun’s sphere of influence until most of the
outer planets are sitting naked in space. Dust and gas will penetrate as far as
Earth’s orbit and may begin eating away at the oxygen in our upper atmosphere,”
according to Winters [44].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] R. Burnham, Great Comets. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 22.
[2] Burnham, Great Comets, p. 23.
[3] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 217.
[4] Darling, Universal Book, p. 112.
[5] T. Ferris, The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report. New York: Simon & Schuster,
1997, p. 330.
[6] Darling, Universal Book, p. 112.
[7] P. Plait, Death from the Skies. New York: Viking Press, 2008, p. 238.
[8] Darling, Universal Book, p. 112.
[9] I. Ridpath, Astronomy. New York: D.K. Publishing, 2008, p. 123.

 
Comets Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 29

[10] Plait, Death from the Skies, pp. 30-31.


[11] Plait, Death from the Skies, p. 31.
[12] Plait, Death from the Skies, p. 31.
[13] Plait, Death from the Skies, p. 31.
[14] M. Dunn, “Hubble Best Shot at Learning Comet’s Fate,” Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p.
C7, December 3, 2013.
[15] Dunn, “Hubble Best Shot,” p. C7.
[16] Dunn, “Hubble Best Shot,” p. C7.
[17] F. Schaaf, Comet of the Century. New York: Copernicus, 1997, p. 91.
[18] Schaaf, Century, p. 91.
[19] Schaaf, Century, p. 91.
[20] J. Milton, Ed., Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of Astronomy. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2007, p. 68.
[21] Milton, Cambridge, p. 68.
[22] Milton, Cambridge, p. 68.
[23] Milton, Cambridge, p. 68.
[24] A. Morales, “Comet-Chasing Rosetta Awakes After 31 Months: Spacecraft to Orbit Comet, Land on
Probe,” Bloomburg News, Albuquerque Journal, p. C3, January 21, 2014.
[25] Morales, “Rosetta,” p. C3.
[26] Morales, “Rosetta,” p. C3.
[27] R. Berkowitz, The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars. Amherst, New
York: Prometheus Books, 2012, p. 196.
[28] Berkowitz, Stardust, p. 196.
[29] Berkowitz, Stardust, p. 196.
[30] Berkowitz, Stardust, p. 196.
[31] Berkowitz, Stardust, p. 196.
[32] Berkowitz, Stardust, p. 196.
[33] Berkowitz, Stardust, p. 196.
[34] Berkowitz, Stardust, p. 224.
[35] Darling, Universal Book, p. 222.
[36] Darling, Universal Book, p. 222.
[37] Darling, Universal Book, p. 222.
[38] Darling, Universal Book, p. 222.
[39] Burnham, Great Comets, p. 29.
[40] E. Mallove, and G. Matloff, The Starflight Handbook. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1989, pp. 166-
7.
[41] J. Winters, “How a Cloud of Space Dust Could Wipe Out Life on Earth. Seemingly Innocuous
Specks Could Throw Off the Whole Solar System—And We Might Not See It Until It’s Too Late,”
Discover, December 30, 2008. [Online]. Available: http://www.discovermagazne.com/2008/whole-
universe/30-how-a-cloud-of-dust-could-wipe out-life-on-Earth#.NSD9dVCE. Accessed 5th March
2014, p. 1.
[42] Winters, “How a Cloud,” p. 1.
[43] Winters, “How a Cloud,” p. 1.
[44] Winters, “How a Cloud,” p. 1.

 
30 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 30-39

CHAPTER 4

Meteors, Meteorites, & Meteoroids


Abstract: Known by a variety of names, depending upon their relationship to our
planet, meteors are much like asteroids in some respects. They are naturally-occurring
solid orbital space objects of great consequence to the Earth. Meteors, meteorites, and
meteoroids were defined and differentiated, with their interrelationships explained. The
amount of meteoroid material deposited daily on the Earth was quantified, as was the
number of meteoroid strikes annually. The number of known meteors was estimated,
and the number of meteor craters documented. Meteoroid strikes on buildings were
examined and dangers posed by meteors to space travelers discussed. The 2013 case of
a meteoroid exploding above Chelabyinsk, Russia, was documented. Recent reanalysis
of meteoroid risk analysis data revealed that the danger of a meteoroid strike has been
underestimated by a factor of four or five times.

Keywords: Achondrite, chondrite, amino acids, craters, fluvial, fusion crust,


interstellar clouds, limestone, meteor, meteorite, meteoroid, micrometeorite,
National Meteorite Collection, planetesimals, risk analysis, sandstone, space
travelers, stony meteorites, stony-iron meteorites, stony meteorites.

1. INTRODUCTION

Their exact name is quite confusing for many people, because the same object can
be known by three different names on its journey through the universe, its trip
through the Earth’s atmosphere, and when it actually impacts the Earth. The
confusion is entirely understandable, and will be cleared up in this chapter.
Meteorites will be defined and explained, and their composition and origin
discussed. They will be quantified in a number of ways; number of meteors,
number of meteorite strikes, number of meteor craters, and daily and annual
amount of meteorite material landing on our planet. The number of meteorite
strikes on buildings will be discussed, along with the perils posed by meteors to
space travelers. Meteors will be exemplified through analysis of the 2013 Russian
meteor strike and the Mexican Allende fireball of 1969.

2. METEORS, METEORITES & METEOROIDS

The name of this space object is sometimes confusing, because it changes


according to where it is. Specifically, it is one thing in space, another in the
Earth’s atmosphere and yet another when it strikes the planet.

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Meteors, Meteorites, & Meteoroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 31

When this space object is hurtling through the universe it is known as a


meteoroid. When the meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere it is called a
shooting star or a meteor. Upon impact with our planet the meteor becomes a
meteorite [1].

3. TYPES OF METEORITES
A. Types of Meteorite
It is possible to neatly categorize meteorites into one of three mutually exclusive
categories. According to Berkowitz (2012), “It’s important to know that there are
three categories of meteorites, each defined by composition and asteroidal origins:
iron, stony iron and stony meteorites” [2]. The same three-part typology was
recognized by Darling [3].

B. Subclassification of Meteorites
Further subcategorization of meteorites may be considered. The mineralogical
nature of the space material may be used to subdivide the population of meteorites
into logical subgroups. There are two main types of stony meteorites, the
chondrite and achondrite varieties. To be even more precise, we can ascertain a
trio of kinds of chondrite meteorites; ordinary chondrite, carbonacious chondrite
and enstatite. A dozen categories of achondrite meteorites have been identified;
acapulcoite, angrite, aubrite, brachinite, diogenite, eucrite, howardite, lodranite,
lunar, SNC, ureilite and winonaite [4].

4. METEORITE COMPOSITION & CHARACTERISTICS


A. Fusion Crust
Meteors develop a fusion crust as they plummet through the planet’s atmosphere.
This crust has been described as “a thin, glassy skin” that surrounds the entire
object. As it hurtles through space and enters the planet’s atmosphere at a speed
between 12 and 72 km per second, friction results in the generation of tremendous
heat, up to 4,800 K degrees. Surface material on the meteor melts and flows
backwards during atmospheric flight, but it then cools and hardens after the
fireball is extinguished [5].

B. Meteorite Content

The content of meteorites has been surprising for some. Organic material has been
abundant in meteorites discovered in the past. Ridpath (1978) recalled, “Rocky

 
32 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

meteorites, such as that which landed at Murchison, Australia, in 1969 have been
found to contain quite complex organic molecules, including amino acids” [6].
Similarly, Zubrin (1999) reported on the chemical and material diversity
represented in meteorites, “The meteorites show a variety of asteroidal
compositions, ranging from nearly pure metal, to stone, to carbonaceous material”
[7].

C. Origins of Meteorites
Meteorite origins have proven to be a bit of a surprise to astronomers, geologists
and related stakeholders. Some of the meteorites found on the Earth came from
Mars, while others emanated from the Moon, according to fossil records,
magnetite crystals and related geological evidence. Two dozen meteorites
belonging to the SNC meteorites category (shergottites, nakhlites and
chassignites) have been discovered [8].

5. DAILY & ANNUAL METEORITE STRIKES

As our planet moves through space in its orbit around the Sun we navigate
through meteoroids. Milton (2007) noted that more than 200 million kg (200,000
tons) of “meteoric material” is encountered by Earth annually [9]. Another source
reported, “Every year, around 220,000 tons (200,000 metric tons) of cosmic dust
and rock enter Earth’s atmosphere as meteors” [10]. Moore (2002) suggested a far
lower amount of meteor material, “Meteors can occur at any time, with the bulk
of the influx of meteoroidal material (estimated at 16,000 tons) comprised of
random, background sporadic meteors” [11].

We can use a different time frame to quantify the incidence of meteor strikes.
Plait (2008) noted the daily amount of meteoric material encountered by the
Earth, between twenty and forty tons of meteoric matter [12].

6. NUMBER OF METEORITES

How many meteorites are there? There are few estimates, to my knowledge.
Zubrin (1999) referred to “the early Solar System’s massive meteorite
bombardment” [13].

“About 30,000 meteorites are known,” Moore (2002) contended. He added that
more than 19,000 meteors heavier than 100 g land annually, but most fall on
water or uninhabited areas and only about ten meteors a year are known to science
[14].

 
Meteors, Meteorites, & Meteoroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 33

7. METEORITE CRATERS

Craters of course comprise the best evidence of past meteorite strikes. Darling
(2004) determined that there were approximately 120 impact craters. Ridpath
(2006) concluded that there were about 160 such craters [15].

8. METEORITE BUILDING STRIKES

It is a relative rarity for a meteorite to impact a building. Most of the Earth is


covered in water, and most of the remainder is uninhabited. The odds are very
much against any man-made structures being struck by a space object.

Nevertheless, it happens. Reynolds (2001) reported that, “In the United States
alone, at least twenty-two verified building strikes were recorded in the twentieth
century” [16].

9. METEORS ENDANGER SPACE TRAVELERS

Most of the analysis in this book has considered the risks to those on the Earth
posed by space objects. However, there are dangers lurking in space from those
objects, as well.

“Space junk and meteorites threaten orbital and lunar communities,” one study
concluded [17]. In a similar vein, Flinn (2007) observed that, “An astronaut might
dodge a meteorite but still get caught by its impact debris, whether spattered along
the horizon or travelling on high, ballistic trajectories” [18].

10. METEORITE EXAMPLES

It might be informative to consider a few examples of meteorites. We will


examine a prominent and well-publicized case, and a couple lesser-known
meteorites.

A. Allende Meteorite
There was considerable excitement in the tiny Mexican village of Pueblito de
Allende, located in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, on February 9,
1969. A “sedan-sized meteorite” plummeted to Earth at supersonic speed in that
place that day, creating sonic booms along its path [19]. The blue-white fireball
“was so bright we had to shield our eyes,” remarked Guillermo Asunsolo, the
editor of a Chihuahan newspaper. “The light was so brilliant we could see an ant

 
34 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

walking on the floor,” Asunsolo added. “The people, especially the people in
small villages are very alarmed. They say that this is an announcement that the
world will soon end,” Asunsolo recalled [20].

When news of the meteorite strike in Pueblito de Allende reached the astronomical
community, it was galvanized into mounting a search and recovery effort to locate
and obtain as much of the meteorite as possible. The Smithsonian Institution took
the lead in this astrogeological campaign which gathered approximately 2,100 pieces
amounting to about two thousand pounds. The fragments were strewn over a debris
field stretching two hundred square miles in size [21].

B. Swedish Meteorite Strikes


A pair of meteorite strikes in Sweden are among the oldest such sites on Earth. A
meteorite fell to Earth 480 million years ago at Osterplana, Sweden, and was
embedded in limestone. It was discovered in 1987. A second Swedish meteorite was
located at Brunflo in 1980. This meteorite dated to approximately 450 million years
ago [22].

C. Lake Murray Meteorite


The largest intact meteorite is the Lake Murray specimen, located in an Oklahoma
gully in 1933. This space object was imbedded in Antler sandstone during the
Lower Cretaceous period. This thick iron-shale meteorite had a nickel-iron core
and its surface was heavily corroded [23].

D. Siberian Meteorite

Another lesser-known meteorite weighed 680 kg, and fell to Earth in Krasnojarsk,
Siberia. It was initially documented in 1772 by Peter Pallas, a German naturalist.
It became known as the Pallas iron [24].

11. 2013 CHELYABINSK STRIKE

One of the most dramatic astronomical events in recent history unfolded in a


Russian city, Chelyabinsk, in February of 2013. The space object was a mere 62
feet in width and it hurtled through the Earth’s atmosphere at 42,000 miles per
hour until it exploded over the startled Russian city [25].

The shock wave shattered thousands of windows. At least 1,600 people were
treated in hospitals temporarily, and hundreds of Russians were treated for an
atypical sunburn-like skin malady [26].

 
Meteors, Meteorites, & Meteoroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 35

The worst part of the entire event for many was the completely unexpected nature
of the meteorite strike. “The terrifying meteor that struck without warning” was a
sobering empirical reminder that the current state of our space science is not
sufficient to fully inform us of impending danger [27].
12. METEORITE RISKS UNDERESTIMATED FOUR OR FIVE TIMES

The globally galvanizing astronomical event in Chelyabinsk in 2013 definitely


resulted in a pronounced change in the global perspective and subsequent risk
analysis pertaining to the danger posed by this specific space object.

Prior to the Chelyabinsk event, most astronomers were relatively unconcerned


with meteorite strikes from objects less than 100 feet wide [28]. In the aftermath
of the 2013 strike, scientists made recalculations and concluded that the smaller
but still lethal meteorites “are probably four or five times more likely to hit the
planet than scientists believed before the fireball” [29].

Airbursts like the Chelyabinsk event were previously considered likely once in 150
years, and the revised odds are once in 30 years [30]. Lindsay Johnson, manager of
NASA’s Near Earth Object program, admitted that her agency is now reevaluating
“what size space rocks to look for and how likely they are to hit” [31].

13. CHELYABINSK REVISITED


A. Meteor Broke Up in the Atmosphere
Additional information might be considered regarding the previously-mentioned
Chelyabinsk meteor strike. It is now believed that the space object broke up in the
Earth’s environment and fragmented into several pieces: Intense heat and pressure
shattered the object into dozens of large pieces during its descent. Russian
officials said they believed they had identified meteorite fragments on the ground
fifty miles west of Chelyabinsk, and had reports of pieces stretched out over
another 75 miles. Searchers also found a circular hole in the ice, 15 to 20 feet
across, in a lake west of Chelyabinsk, and roped it off [32].

The invading space object was about fifty feet wide and entered our atmosphere at
approximately 40,000 miles per hour [33].

B. Atmospheric Effects
The space object involved in this case did not only create consequences on the
ground, but there was also an obvious impact in the Earth’s atmosphere. Newman

 
36 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

(2013) reported, “The meteor explosion that caused extensive damage around the
Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15 also sent a massive plume of airborne
debris into Earth’s stratosphere” [34].

The object was about the size of a bus and it detonated about fifteen miles above
the planet’s surface with the energy release of thirty Hiroshima-sized bombs [35].
Satellite data revealed that “hundreds of tons of dust remained in the upper
atmosphere for a full two months following the explosion” [36]. This meteoric
dust encircled the Earth in four days at approximately 190 miles per hour [37].

C. Injuries and Property Damage


The Chelyabinsk strike was noteworthy for the damage done. According to
Timothy McCoy, an expert on meteors at the Smithsonian National Museum,
while there have been previous meteor- related injuries, “the number hurt” at
Chelyabinsk “is unprecedented” [38]. McCoy added, “I can’t think of a burst this
size over a city before” [39].

This natural space object explosion was responsible for “injuring nearly 1,500
people. Most of the injuries were due to shattered, falling or blown-in glass,”
Newman (2013) reported [40]. At least 7,700 buildings were damaged, and the
shock wave caused by the strike circled the world twice [41].

The Washington Post observed that the incident “was the largest such impact in
more than a century and the first to cause significant human casualties, with at
least 48 victims hospitalized” [42]. It was reported that 1,200 people were injured
as the shock wave shattered windows and collapsed roofs [43].

“Our main task now is to preserve the heat in offices and homes, and where
windows were shattered to prevent the heating system from freezing,” declared
regional governor Mikhail Yurevich [44]. There were approximately 3,000
buildings damaged by the meteor strike, according to the transcript of a meeting
of Russian emergency management officials [45].

D. Largest Object to Strike Earth Since Tunguska


One way to understand the true magnitude of something is to attain a comparative
understanding or perspective on events. In this case the comparison is both apt
and descriptive. “This was the largest object observed to hit the Earth since 1908,”
suggested Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at Western Ontario
University [46].

 
Meteors, Meteorites, & Meteoroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 37

14. TWO IN ONE DAY

It seems like a coincidence far beyond chance. After all, it is extraordinarily


unusual for a space object to strike the planet. And on the very same day,
February 15, 2013, two space objects made a close approach to the planet Earth: It
was a day when the Earth was caught in a cosmic crossfire. The big rock came
from the south, the smaller one from the east. They were unrelated objects, with
different orbits, one the size of an apartment building, the other slimmer but with
better aim,. The asteroid that was supposed to show up Friday, the much-hyped
2012 DA 14, passed by harmlessly, just as the experts had promised it would. But
they had no way of seeing the other rock heading toward Russia. The explanation
from NASA scientists, when asked why they hadn’t spotted it, boiled down to two
simple facts: It was small and the sun was in their eyes [47].

Astronomers knew about the arrival of 2012 DA 14 in the immediate vicinity of


the Earth. They were watching as the asteroid passed within 17,000 miles of our
planet [48].

But the global astronomical community was caught completely off-guard by the
arrival of the Chelyabinsk space object. The Washington Post story concluded
with this observation, “A series of booms trailed the space rock. As it exploded,
the meteor briefly blazed brighter than the sun. And no one saw it coming. A
weather satellite’s camera snapped the meteor’s dive, but a global network of
telescopes funded by NASA failed to detect it” [49].

15. TWO IN ONE YEAR

There were two meteor incidents in 2014. Actually, to be precise, there were two
meteor strikes within nineteen days. The first episode occurred in Argentina, and
the subsequent meteor event happened in South Korea.

A. Argentina Meteor Event


A meteor frightened the northern Argentina town of Santa Fe on February 18,
2014 [50]. The loud noise and ground shaking accompanying the meteor strike
convinced some local residents that they were experiencing an earthquake [51].
The sonic boom produced by the strike could be heard within a 200-mile radius,
and the meteor exploded approximately 45 miles above the surface of the Earth
[52].

 
38 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

No injuries or damage were reported, and no meteorite fragments were discovered


on the ground [53]. Jorge Coghlan, Director of the Santa Fe Astronomical
Observatory, was quoted in Clarin to the effect that the space object might have
been about twenty inches in diameter [54].

B. South Korea Meteor Event


Residents of Jinju, South Korea, “have been scouring the surrounding hills and
rice patties in search of meteorites since a fireball shattered overhead earlier this
month,” Newman (2014) reported [55]. The South Korean Science Institute
declared the meteor to be “an ordinary chondrite meteorite, with high iron
compression” [56].

The object exploded while entering the Earth’s atmosphere on March 9, 2014
[57]. This was the first meteorite strike on the Korean peninsula since the
Japanese occupation of the country in World War II [58]. The South Korean
government prohibited export from the country of any parts of the meteorite,
defining them as “cultural assets” [59].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] P. Plait, Bad Astronomy. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002, p. 30.
[2] J. Berkowitz, The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars. Amherst, New
York: Prometheus Books, 2012, p. 202.
[3] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 336.
[4] Darling, Universal Book, p. 195.
[5] Darling, Universal Book, p. 195.
[6] I. Ridpath, Messages from the Stars. New York: Harper & Row, 1978, p. 39.
[7] R. Zubrin, Entering Space. New York: Penguin Putnam Publishing, 1999, p. 139.
[8] Darling, Universal Book, p. 314.
[9] J. Milton, Ed., Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of Astronomy. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2007, p. 223.
[10] D.K. Publishing, Space: A Visual Encyclopedia. New York: D.K. Publishing, 2010, p. 160.
[11] P.E. Moore, Ed., Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp.
257-8.
[12] Plait, Bad Astronomy, p. 9.
[13] Moore, Oxford, p. 257.

 
Meteors, Meteorites, & Meteoroids Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 39

[14] Moore, Oxford, p. 258.


[15] Zubrin, Entering Space, p. 247.
[16] M.D. Reynolds, Falling Star: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania:
Stackpole Books, 2001, p. 51.
[17] A.A. Harrison, Spacefaring: The Human Dimension. Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 2001, p. 231.
[18] E.D. Flinn, “Mimicking Meteor Impacts,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 5, May 2007, p. 28.
[19] T. Ferris, The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report. Amherst, New York: Prometheus
Books, 2012, p. 200.
[20] Ferris, Whole Shebang, p. 201.
[21] Darling, Universal Book, p. 485.
[22] Darling, Universal Book, p. 378.
[23] S. Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor Strikes Now Considered More Likely: Russian Blast Has Caused
Concerns,” The Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p. A8, November 7, 2013.
[24] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[25] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[26] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[27] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[28] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[29] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[30] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[31] Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor,” p. A8.
[32] B. Vastag, W. Englund, and J. Achenbach, “Space Rock Rattles Russia: A Meteor Weighing More
Than a Nuclear Submarine Explodes Above Russia,” The Washington Post. Reprinted in the
Albuquerque Journal, p. A5, February 16, 2013.
[33] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[34] S. Newman, “Meteoric Dust Belt,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B6, August 27, 2013.
[35] Newman, “Dust Belt,” p. B6.
[36] Newman, “Dust Belt,” p. B6.
[37] Newman, “Dust Belt,” p. B6.
[38] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[39] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[40] S. Newman, “A Global Blast,” Albuquerque Journal, p. C8, December 31, 2013.
[41] Newman, “Global Blast,” p. C8.
[42] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[43] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[44] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[45] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[46] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[47] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” pp. A1-A5.
[48] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[49] Vastag, Englund and Achenbach, “Rattles Russia,” p. A5.
[50] Newman, Steve. (2014, February 25). “Argentina Fireball.” Albuquerque Journal, p. B6.
[51] Newman, “Argentina,” p. B6.
[52] Newman, “Argentina,” p. B6.
[53] Newman, “Argentina,” p. B6.
[54] Newman, “Argentina,” p. B6.
[55] Newman, Steve. (2014, March 25). “Meteorite Rush.” Albuquerque Journal, p. B4.
[56] Newman, “Meteorite,” p. B4.
[57] Newman, “Meteorite,” p. B4.
[58] Newman, “Meteorite,” p. B4.
[59] Newman, “Meteorite,” p. B4.

 
40 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 40-50

CHAPTER 5

Space Debris
Abstract: Space debris is the topic of this chapter. It will be realized that space debris
poses real threats to the Earth. Similarly, there are risks in space resulting from these
discarded and unwanted space objects. Space debris poses a substantial risk to the
International Space Station and to spacecraft in space. Space debris is a rising concern,
and such material constitutes a growing threat. A disaster will inevitably result from
space debris. Space debris was quantified, and the volume of space debris material was
shown to be increasing.

Keywords: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, ammonia


servicer, Atlantic Ocean, Automated Transfer Vehicle, Canadian Coast Guard,
CBC News, Discovery, Hubble Space Telescope, Kosmos 954, Kosmos 2421,
Labrador, Skylab, spaceships, space assets, space debris, The Daily Mail, U.S.
Space Surveillance Network, USA Today, Wall St. Journal, Western Australia.

1. INTRODUCTION

Space debris is one of the most important aspects of the near-Earth space
environment, and represents perhaps the greatest threat to spacefarers. This
chapter discusses the debris circulating and orbiting throughout the universe.
Some is from natural sources, like collisions between minor planets, while most is
the remains of mankind’s ventures into space. It will become clear that space
debris poses substantial risks to the Earth and spacefarers. The International Space
Station (ISS) and spacecraft are endangered by debris, which represents a growing
threat. It is inevitable that space debris will be associated with a space disaster.
The amount of space debris is quantified, and it is documented that the amount is
increasing.

2. SPACE DEBRIS IS VERY DANGEROUS TO EARTH

Space debris represents a threat to those on the Earth, not just those in space. In
fact, it is safe to say that space debris is a universal danger. For instance, 1978
was a particularly bad year for space debris strikes on the Earth.

Kosmos 954 was an obsolete Soviet satellite powered by nuclear fuel. Parts of this
satellite fell on northern Canada as it disintegrated and fell to Earth. Later that same
year, the American space station Skylab left its previous orbit and plummeted
towards our planet. Parts of Skylab crashed into Western Australia [1].
Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Space Debris Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 41

3. SPACE DEBRIS FALLS TO EARTH

In November of 2008, an early ammonia servicer discarded from the International


Space Station (ISS) fell to Earth. The refrigerator-sized, 1,400-pound object was
difficult to track because it’s irregular shape precluded the development of a
stable orbit and rotational pattern [2].

A month later a similar phenomenon occurred. It was announced that a piece of a


Russian rocket fell into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Labrador. “The
Canadian Coast Guard said the situation happened so quickly, it didn’t have time
to issue a maritime warning,” according to CBC News [3].

4. SPACE DEBRIS IS BIGGEST THREAT TO SPACE ASSETS

The Daily Launch is the personalized daily newsletter of the American Institute
of Aeronautics and Astronautics. A recent article title conveyed the essence of
the article. It read, “Space Junk Now Biggest Risk to Some Space Assets.” The
article reported, “Junk is the single biggest risk factor to equipment in some
orbits” [4].

“Today the space around Earth is littered with debris traveling in various orbits at
rates up to 18,000 mph. Orbital debris endangers orbital facilities and drive
requirements for expensive tracking systems,” according to the landmark
NASA/STA study in 1999 [5].

The Wall Street Journal reported on the magnitude of the risk from space debris.
“The volume of man-made space debris has grown so large that scientists say
garbage now poses a bigger threat to the U.S. space shuttle program than an
accident on lift-off or landing” [6].

5. SPACE DEBRIS ENDANGERS SPACE OBJECTS

We can consider an example, a very simple and true example of the space debris
danger. Something as small as a flake of paint can be lethal in the hostile
environment of space.

In 1993 a flake of paint struck the space shuttle windshield. It had to be replaced
at a cost of $500,000. A slightly larger piece of paint might have cracked the
windshield and caused an implosion due to loss of pressure in the shuttle cabin
[7].
42 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

We can easily generalize from that flake of paint to the big picture. According to a
Washington Post study, “That trash is increasingly a hassle. Satellites periodically
have to adjust their orbits to steer clear of passing debris. Astronauts working on
the International Space Station occasionally have to scramble into their Soyuz
escape capsule when metal shards fly by, just in case a piece hits the station” [8].
6. SPACE DEBRIS THREATENS ISS

The ISS is the largest man-made structure in space. As such it is the prime target
for space debris. There have been numerous occasions when space debris has
necessitated removal of the astronauts to the evacuation pod.

In late August of 2008, the ISS was repositioned to a slightly different orbit to
avoid space debris. Astronauts used the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to
lower the orbit by nearly a mile. The debris in question came from a Soviet
Kosmos 2421 satellite [9].
Almost exactly one year later, the ISS was again endangered by space junk. A
spent European rocket booster was tracked as it passed near the ISS and the
docked space shuttle Discovery [10].

There was a pair of close calls within a couple of weeks in the summer of 2011.
The initial incident was the most serious by far. “The six space station astronauts
took shelter in lifeboats Tuesday when a piece of orbiting junk came dangerously
close,” according to a media report [11]. The unidentified space object came
within 1,100 feet of the ISS, it was revealed by NASA Space Operations chief,
Bill Gerstenmaier [12].

NASA only had fourteen hours’ advance warning of the approach of the object.
Mission Control ordered the ISS crew into the two Russian Soyuz capsules [13].
The call to seek shelter arrived at 5:30 a.m., MDT, and “the time of closest
approach was a little after 6 a.m.” [14].

There was a second scare in store for the ISS about two weeks later. The Associated
Press reported in July of 2011, “NASA is monitoring a piece of space junk that
might come dangerously close to the shuttle station” [15]. NASA Mission Specialist
LeRoy Cain disclosed that the size of the debris was unknown [16].

Borenstein (2011) provided an on-balance assessment of the frequency of risky


situations encountered by the ISS, “The International Space Station has to move
out of the way of debris from time to time” [17].
Space Debris Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 43

7. SPACE DEBRIS ENDANGERS SPACESHIPS

“The shuttle that will carry astronauts into space next month to repair the Hubble
Space Telescope faces a greater risk than usual of a catastrophic collision with
space debris,” the USA Today reported in 2008 [18].

Shuttle problems led to the destruction of two of the spacecraft. Analysis of the
Discovery shuttle in Aerospace America referred to “new worries about Discovery
being damaged by micrometeoroids or space debris that might impact the shuttle’s
reentry thermal protection systems” [19].

8. SPACE DEBRIS IS A RISING CONCERN

There is an ad hoc, informal international astronomical community. Major players


can be cited, like NASA, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
(AIAA), and the International Aeronautical Federation (IAF). There are others too
numerous to mention here.

Increasing concern about space debris typifies these space industry policy and
decision-makers. Katz et al. (2009) concluded, “The probability that debris will
collide with a spacecraft in low Earth orbit is a rising concern of the space
community” [20].

9. SPACE DEBRIS IS A GROWING THREAT

Nicholas Johnson was the chief orbital debris officer at NASA at the time this
book was written at the beginning of 2014. He was privy to the U.S. Space
Surveillance Network and employed in the NASA Orbital Debris Program.

“The threat posed by orbital debris to the reliable operation of space systems will
continue to grow unless the sources of space debris are brought under control,”
Johnson told the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee in 2009 [21].

Despite international agreements to minimize the generation of space debris, the


problem is a growing one. Plumer (2013) reported that, “It’s also clear that the
present system is failing. If you look at what NASA is saying, even in the absence
of new launches, the amount of debris will continue to grow over the next 200
years” [22].
44 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

10. SPACE DEBRIS-CAUSED DISASTER IS INEVITABLE

“It is only a matter of time before an accident occurs.” That was the opinion of
The Daily Mail and its space analyst Christopher Hanlon in 2008 [23]. Hanlon
cited the extensive amount of space debris as the reason why a disaster is
inevitable.

11. QUANTIFICATION OF SPACE DEBRIS

At this point we might consider an attempted quantification of the amount of


space debris. More than a dozen qualified sources were consulted to ascertain as
precisely as possible just how much junk there is in space. While the authorities
and organizations whose opinions I sought about the amount of space debris
disagree on some of the specifics, all agree that there is a considerable amount. It
is estimated that about 6.6 million pounds (3 million kilograms) of man-made
material orbits around our planet 1,240 miles above the surface. Much of this is
contained in 3,500 rocket stages and approximately 5,500 smaller objects. This
human contribution to the total amount of space debris outweighs the natural
sources—by 15,000 times.

Angelo (2006) concluded that, “Consequently, this orbital debris environment is


now considered more hazardous than the natural meteoroid environment to
spacecraft operating in Earth orbit below an altitude of 1,240 miles” [24].

There are numerous discarded or no longer functioning items orbiting along with
the working satellites and operant space machines. Tiron (2006) mentioned that,
“2700 discarded satellites” remain in space [25]. There were at least 9,000 large
pieces of space debris being tracked by the U.S. Space Control Center in 2004
according to Isaac Asimov [26]. Angelo (2006) corroborated Asimov precisely
[27].

Other quantification totals are considerably larger. For instance, Rising (2013)
reported data from the U.S. Space Surveillance Network that tracks the number of
items of space debris, which amounts to about “23,000 space objects” [28]. A
verbal but nonetheless compelling quantification was provided by early space
expert Albert Harrison, “Thousands of pieces of space junk threaten life. These
include spent boosters, discarded covers and mantles, dead satellites and broken-
up equipment ranging from large chunks to tiny pieces” [29].
Space Debris Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 45

“The USAF already tracks about 10,000 pieces of ‘space junk’ that measures
more than 10 cm in diameter each. More than 600,000 additional debris objects
larger than 1 cm are estimated to be in orbit,” according to a recent article in
Aerospace America [30]. The same statistics were reported in another trade
publication later that year [31].

NASA is an important information source on space debris due to its operational


experience in space-related questions. The NASA Orbital Debris Program website
included quantification of the incidence of space debris. According to the
“Frequently Asked Questions,” there are about 11,000 objects larger than 10 cm
in size, and “the estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in
diameter is greater than 100,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 cm
probably exceeds tens of millions” [32].

The Space Institute at Rice University is another significant space policy


stakeholder. Patricia Reiff of the Space Institute remarked that her office was
keeping tabs on space debris. “Right now, we’re tracking I think 12,000 pieces of
space junk.” Another estimate reported by the Daily Launch alleged that the U.S.
military “had a running catalogue of 19,000 pieces of orbital debris” [33].

Isaac Asimov was a popular scientist whose public appeal led to television and
other media opportunities. Asimov (2006) believed that, “There are now more
than 100,000 pieces of space debris at least the size of a sugar cube estimated to
be circling Earth. The number of pieces of smaller size is probably in the
millions” [34].

The AIAA newsletter, Daily Launch, includes abstracts and quotations from
media worldwide on space topics. “Space is littered with millions of bits of
orbiting garbage leftover from missions,” the March 31, 2008, newsletter
reported. Nicholas Johnson was program manager and chief scientist in NASA’s
Orbital Debris Program Office. Johnson told reporters that it doesn’t matter what
space debris is comprised of due to the velocity, “It could be made out of Jell-O or
foam or stainless steel. When it’s that big it travels at orbital velocities and [if] it
hits something else, it’s going to be a bad day” [35].

A partly-verbal, partly numerical estimate was offered by the AIAA. The Daily
Launch reported that one expert (Hanlon) feared “the swarm of perhaps tens of
millions of items” [36]. Those items of debris included “derelict spacecraft and
dead satellites, bits of rocket casing, pieces of metal ejected during collisions and
46 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

docking procedures, nuts and bolts, dropped tools, frozen lumps of rocket fuel and
human waste material” [37].

“There are 22,000 objects that are big enough for officials on the ground to track
and countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying
spaceships and valuable satellites,” the Associated Press noted [38]. A very
similar estimate was provided by another source, the U.S. Strategic Command,
which tracks debris [39]. It is aware of “more than 21,000 man-made objects in
orbit” ten centimeters in size, The Washington Post reported in 2013 [40]. But
there are hundreds of thousands of even smaller pieces circling the planet, too
small to be tracked [41].

12. INCREASING AMOUNT OF SPACE DEBRIS

There are reasons to believe that the amount of space debris will only increase
over time. These reasons are firmly rooted in the past. They include the 2007
Chinese antisatellite test, the 2009 satellite collision, and ASAT weapons testing.
It will also be suggested that the generation of space debris and resultant public
concern will be linear to the amount of launches.

In January of 2007 the People’s Republic of China launched one of its direct-
ascent vehicles from the Xichang Launch Center and aimed it to intercept
FengYun 1C, an obsolete polar orbiting weather satellite. As a result of the
collision, more than 2,000 new objects were tracked by the U.S. Space
Surveillance Network. NASA’s Orbital Debris Program estimated that 35,000
pieces of debris larger than 1 cm were created [42].

Ken Hodgkins was Director of the Office of Space and Advanced Technology at
the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science in the U.S. Department of State.
Asked to comment on the Chinese test he responded, “But the fact is that their test
created a huge amount of debris that will be in space for a long, long time” [43].

In February of 2009 two satellites collided over Siberia. This unintentional close
contact resulted in the complete loss of both space machines. And at least 800
large pieces of debris were generated [44]. Plumer (2013) arrived at a
substantially higher estimate of the amount of debris generated by the accident,
“The result: 2,000 additional chunks of metal flying around Earth” [45].

ASAT weapons testing by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. is a thing of the past, and
hopefully it will remain a practice of the past. Whatever the merits of nuclear
Space Debris Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 47

sabre-rattling, these tests severely polluted the space environment. “The collision
of a missile with a satellite in LEO creates tens of thousands and perhaps
hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris that remain in orbit and pose a danger to
hundreds of operational military, civil and commercial satellites from
governments, companies, organizations and universities” [46].

The Washington Post reported that the Chinese anti-satellite test created an
additional 3,000 bits of debris [47]. Borenstein (2011) added detail about the
incident, “The widely criticized Chinese test used a missile to smash an aging
weather satellite into 150,000 pieces of debris larger than four-tenths of an
inch, and 3,118 pieces can be tracked by radar on the ground” [48].

A final point about the increasing incidence of space debris might be considered.
The generation of new space debris is a linear function of increasing space
development. The more space tourism and other commercial space activity that
occurs, the more space debris will be generated and the greater the risk posed by
existing space debris. That was the conclusion of the Executive Summary to the
General Public Space Travel and Tourism Workshop in 1999 (O’Neil et al.),
“Very many more rocket launches will heighten concern about launch site noise
and atmospheric pollution, and heighten concern regarding space debris
collisions” [49].

13. NASA ORBITAL DEBRIS PROGRAM

This NASA office has already been discussed at several points in this chapter.
The purpose of the Orbital Debris Program Office is to have a centralized place
within the federal government to act as a focal point for the American government
response to space debris.

14. THE IMPACT OF SPACE DEBRIS

It seems difficult to believe that small pieces of debris could endanger humans in
space or threaten spacecraft and other equipment. Nevertheless, the impact of
space debris upon spacefarers and their artifacts would be terribly destructive.

An example might serve to better illustrate the gravity of space debris. A spherical
piece of aluminum, about ten centimeters in length, would strike a space object
with the equivalent of seven kilograms of TNT, and “it would blow everything to
48 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

smithereens” [50]. McGarrigle (1984) provided a legal perspective on the danger


posed by space debris in the future, “Obviously, with the expected increase in
space travel, an unregulated system that would allow excessive space debris to
accumulate and cause hazards to navigation, communication and health would be
unacceptable” [51].

15. RECENT SPACE DEBRIS CRASHES

Two space objects crashed into the Earth between February 18 and March 9,
2014. One exploded over South Korea and the other ended its flight over
Argentine. Both space objects were described in multiple ways. Interestingly both
were referred to as space debris.

In the Argentine case, “the trail left by the space debris” was mentioned by
Newman (2014) [52]. Similarly, in Jinju, South Korea, “the same piece of space
debris” was mentioned [53].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

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Space Debris Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 49

[10] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “ISS Avoids Russian Space Junk,” Daily
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[44] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “NASA, Industry Discuss Space Debris at
Congressional Hearing,” Daily Launch, April 29, 2009, p. 4.
50 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[45] Caceres, “ASATs,” p. 17.


[46] Plumer, “Cleaning Bill,” p. A9.
[47] Plumer, “Cleaning Bill,” p. A9.
[48] Borenstein, “Junk Making Mess,” p. A8.
[49] D. O’Neil, I. Bekey, J. Mankins, T.F. Rogers, and E.W. Stallmer, “Executive Summary,” Space
Future: General Public Space Travel & Tourism, NASA/STA, NP-1998-03-11-MSFC. 1998, p. 13.
[50] Plumer, “Cleaning Bill,” p. A9.
[51] P. McGarrigle, “Hazardous Biological Activities in Space,” Akron Law Review, vol 18, no. 1, p. 114,
Summer, 1984.
[52] S. Newman, “Argentina Fireball,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B4, February 25, 2014.
[53] S. Newman, “Meteorite Rush,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B6, March 25, 2014.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 51-60 51

CHAPTER 6

Satellites
Abstract: In this chapter satellites were defined. The commercial, military, political and
economic importance of satellites was explained and documented. The number of
satellites was quantified, and it was noted that the number of satellites is continuously
increasing. The concept of a geosynchronous orbit was explained, and the saturation of
this geosynchronous zone by too many satellites was documented. The fact that
satellites regularly crash to Earth was exemplified. The need to manage and maximize
the safety of satellite traffic in the public interest was emphasized.

Keywords: Apogee, Bay of Bengal, Center for Defense Information, ESA


Gravity Field and Ocean Circulation Explorer, ESA Office of Space Debris,
Falkland Islands, Geosynchronous zone, GPS, inclination, Information Age,
International Civil Aviation Authority, Meteostats, perigee, Property Rights
Convention, Registration Convention, Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel,
ROSAT satellite, Sputnik I, telemedicine, The Capital Hill Club, The Teal Group.

1. INTRODUCTION

One of the facets of modern life overlooked by most of us most of the time is the
proliferation of satellites in orbit around our planet. They are ubiquitous and plentiful
players, particularly in the geosynchronous orbit zones. Satellites have enabled
revolutions in telecommunications, computers, retail, industry and other sectors of
the economy.

But they can be problematic, as well. What goes up may well come down, and
satellites have been known to crash to Earth. But by far the biggest problem
associated with satellites lies in their location. There is an area in space above the
Earth that is preferable for satellite placement, called the geosynchronous zone,
which has become too crowded.

2. DEFINITION OF A SATELLITE

What is a satellite? This word is an equivocal one, as it has multiple meanings. An


astronomer would most likely identify a satellite as a natural space object orbiting
around a larger natural object. That is not my meaning. So I looked for the entry,
‘Artificial Satellite.’

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
52 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

By satellite, I concur with the Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia: An A to Z Guide


to the Universe. An artificial satellite, according to the Oxford reference work, is
a “man-made object that is placed into orbit around the earth, Sun or some other
astronomical body” [1].

Sputnik I was placed into orbit around the Earth on October 4, 1957. It was a
product of the Soviet Union, the initial salvo in what became known as the Space
Race. There would be approximately 5,000 successful launches by 2002 [2].

3. THE IMPORTANCE OF SATELLITES

Satellites have largely enabled the rapid information flow characteristic of the
Information Age. The cellular telephones and other electronic devices used in
contemporary society transmit voice, video and text messages that provide a sense
of social and interpersonal cohesion in a rapidly changing technology
environment. Satellites make this instantaneous communication possible.

Satellites generally serve one of two types of purposes, civilian and military. It is
believed that about three-fourths of satellites currently in orbit are commercial in
nature [3]. The civilian satellites involve GPS positioning systems, cellular phone
and data transmission, weather observation and telemedicine applications.

Weather observation and prediction is a vital satellite mission, particularly in


times of extreme weather. Tornadoes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, blizzards, ice
storms, dust storms and other unusual weather phenomenon require adequate
satellite surveillance. Meteostats is the ESA satellite placed into orbit to guarantee
adequate meteorological data collection [4].

A Washington Post story provided this on-balance perspective on the utility of


satellites in a wide variety of applications, “The orbits around Earth are
undeniably valuable. Satellites are used for everything from communications to
television to Earth monitoring and military surveillance” [5].

4. QUANTIFICATION OF THE NUMBER OF SATELLITES

Precisely how many satellites are in orbit around the Earth? In a sense the exact
number is unimportant, because the bottom line answer to the question is: A lot.
There is a significant number of artificial satellites in orbit around the Earth.
Satellites Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 53

In 2010, one reference work estimated that, “There are about 900 satellites in
operation, most of them in orbit around the Earth” [6]. According to the Teal
Group analysis as reported by Caceres, (2007), there are “about 175-200
commercial satellites currently operating in LEO, an additional 50-60 military
satellites, and 50-60 civil/university satellites—a total of approximately 300
satellites, plus the Space Station” [7].

“Thousands of satellites have been sent into space since Sputnik in 1957,” it was
suggested in a 2010 publication [8]. The Associated Press (2013) quantified the
total of satellites in a 2013 story on the crash of an ESA Gravity Field and Ocean
Circulation Explorer in the South Atlantic Ocean about 100 miles from the
Falkland Islands. There have been approximately 6,600 satellites launched into
space, of which 3,600 remain in space [9].

More recent estimates suggest a dizzying lack of certainty in our quantification of


the number of satellites circling the Earth. The Union of Concerned Scientists
(UCS) declared that there were 1,084 satellites in 2014 [10]. “Lower Earth Orbit
was the residence of 530 satellites, with 29 in Middle Earth Orbits, 38 in elliptical
orbits and another 437 in geosynchronous orbits.” The UCS observed 461
American space objects, 110 Russian and 107 from China. The American
satellites included seven for civilian purposes, 205 commercial satellites, 115 for
the government and 134 military items in space [11].

An online source, WISEGeek, estimated that in 2014 there were 3,000 satellites
around the Earth. There was an additional 8,000 “man-made objects,” and in total
there have been 24,500 satellites [12]. The Goddard Space Flight Center was
aware of “2,271 satellites currently in orbit” in 1997 [13]. According to Fraser
Cain and Universe Today, there were 1,071 satellites as of October 24, 2013 [14].

5. INCREASING NUMBER OF SATELLITES

“There is renewed expectation of major private capital investment in satellite


systems and launch vehicles. A number of next-generation U.S. military satellites
that are in the pipeline should soon be ready for launch,” Aerospace America
reported recently. The analysis added, “Dozens (perhaps hundreds) of
nanosatellites and picosatellites being developed by universities and other
research institutions are near completion and awaiting launch to LEO aboard
cheap launchers such as Dnepr, Rockot and Start” [15]. In 2006 alone, a total of
33 satellites was successfully launched to LEO [16].
54 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

6. GEOSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT

The term geosynchronous orbit is an important one in astronomy in general, and


for satellites in particular. In his 1957 book, Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel,
Willy Ley envisioned the geosynchronous orbit, 22,300 miles in space, with
satellites circling the Earth in 24 hours and apparently not moving or changing
position with respect to the planet. By 1972 fully 43% of all satellites were
intended for the geosynchronous orbit [17].

The geosynchronous orbit is crowded. A half-dozen factors are used to ascertain


satellite presence and location: Specifying the full set of six orbital elements may
become increasingly necessary for traffic control as space becomes more
crowded, especially in certain highly-valued regions of space. The four
parameters specified in the Registration Convention and White’s proposed
Property Rights Convention are insufficient for determining the position of
objects in relation to one another. It is possible for satellites to have exactly the
same orbital parameters of period, inclination, apogee and perigee, and either be
thousands of kilometers apart or right on top of each other. In fact, there is an
orbit that is occupied by hundreds of space objects: the period is 23 hours, 56
minutes 9 seconds (a sidereal day), the inclination is zero, and both the apogee
and perigee are 37,785 kilometers. It is the geostationary orbit. The distinguishing
characteristic between all of these satellites is the longitude at epoch, and
obviously the specifying longitude [18].

There are actually two congested orbital zones around the Earth. Plumer (2013)
reported that approximately 49% of satellites are in low Earth orbit, with about
41% in geosynchronous orbit [19]. Plumer concluded that “these orbits are getting
clogged” [20]. That statement serves as a transition to our next topic.

7. SATURATION OF GEOSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT

“Satellites in geosynch are not evenly distributed, but tend to be clustered where
they can view areas of heavy communications traffic. Locations above the
Western U.S., above the Atlantic, or over central Asia are particularly favored,”
Heppenheimer observed [21].

Scientific American reported on the density of satellite traffic in the


geosynchronous orbit zone. Beardsley (1999) referred to the fact that, “Low-Earth
orbit is rapidly becoming a free enterprise zone, because satellites that close can
transmit signals to desktop or even handheld receivers” [22]. “The now crowded
Satellites Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 55

geosynchronous orbit” was explained by the same source as being “where


satellites jostle for elbow room 36,000 kilometers (22,300 miles) above the
Equator” [23].

Heppenheimer discussed the same issues with satellite orbits. He concluded back
in 1978:

Today looking to the 1990s and beyond, the communications industry


faces a problem of which Willy Ley never dreamed: an actual saturation
of the geosynch orbit, or shortage of desirable satellite locations along
it’s arc. Such saturation does not mean—at least not yet—that
geosynchronous orbit will be as packed with spacecraft as a freeway
during rush hour. Instead, it means that the satellites would be so closely
spaced as to interfere with each other’s operation [24].

8. SATELLITES CRASH TO EARTH


A. Skylab
Satellites keep falling to Earth. One of the most memorable such events was the
demise of NASA’s Skylab in 1979. The Earth was struck by about 82 tons of
Skyab debris, some in Australia and the remainder in the Indian Ocean. The
Skylab space station was said to have weighed only 75 tons by NASA [25].

B. Mir
A Russian space station similarly provided some anxious moments on the Earth,
this time in 2001. The Mir space station, or about 149 tons of it, came down in a
‘controlled descent’ into the Pacific Ocean. The Russians were adamant that “it
was a controlled dive into the Pacific” [26].

C. UARS & ROSAT


2011 was a noteworthy year for satellite incidents. Another NASA space object
crashed to Earth, the UARS satellite crashed into the Pacific Ocean. And
Germany’s ROSAT satellite descended into the Bay of Bengal [27].

The UARS reentry was eagerly anticipated for several days in advance of the
event. On September 19, 2011, the Washington Post noted, “The sky is not
falling. A 12,500 pound NASA satellite the size of a bus is, however” [28]. The
Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite was expected to crash over a three-day time
frame [29]. The 35-foot-long satellite was expected between 57 degrees north
56 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

latitude and 57 degrees south [30]. It was predicted in advance as being “the
biggest piece of NASA space junk to fall to Earth in more than 30 years” [31]. It
was believed that approximately 26 large shards of metal will survive reentry and
fall in a debris field 500 miles in length, with some objects in excess of 300
pounds [32].

Within a week there was additional publicity about the UARS reentry. NASA
posted a Twitter post on Friday morning, “It’s possible that #UARS is down by
now. Everybody OK out there? We’re waiting for confirmation from U.S.
Strategic Command” [33]. A second tweet shortly before midnight speculated
that, “it was most likely in Canada” [34].

“It just doesn’t want to come down,” declared Jonathan McDowell of the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics [35]. A NASA orbital debris
specialist, Mark Matney, suggested, “In the last 24 hours, something has
happened to the spacecraft” [36].

“The risk to public safety is very remote,” according to a NASA statement [37].
NASA estimated that the odds of someone being injured by space debris at one in
3,200. The A.P. reported, “Earthlings can take comfort in the fact that no one has
ever been hurt by falling space junk—to anyone’s knowledge—and there has been
no serious property damage” [38].

A week later it appeared that the UARS had crashed in the water or an
uninhabited area. Nick Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for space debris studies,
remarked that, “We don’t know where the re-entry point exactly was. We don’t
exactly know where the debris field is” [39]. NASA sought public assistance in
locating the debris, “NASA urges anyone who thinks they’ve found satellite
debris to call police. It’s government property and illegal to keep it or try to sell
it” [40].

“Speculation was rampant on sites such as Twitter,” according to one media


report. Kennedy and Borenstein (2011) concluded that, “It’s as big as a bus and
weighs six tons, but officials will probably never be able to pinpoint exactly
where a massive NASA satellite plummeted to Earth” [41].

D. Crashes are Weekly Events


Are these unplanned space object reentry events a rarity or are they more common
than we might think? The answer might be surprising for those who consider
Satellites Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 57

satellite crashes an atypical happening. Holger Krag is the Deputy Head of the
ESA Space Debris Office. He observed that statistically speaking, “Roughly every
week you have a re-entry like GOCE” [42].

The GOCE satellite Krag referred to was the ESA Gravity Field and Ocean
Circulation Explorer, which crashed in November of 2013. A couple of days
before the crash, ESA announced the forthcoming space debris event [43]. The
2,425-pound object had at that time already dropped to an altitude of 105 miles
above the Earth and was spiraling downward [44]. ESA officials calculated that
humans were 250,000 times more likely to win the lottery than to be struck by a
piece of debris from GOCE [45].

9. SATELLITE COLLISIONS

There are no stop signs or traffic lights in space. Even if there were, objects
travelling at 24,000 miles per hour would not heed them due to their extreme rate
of speed. In a saturated satellite environment collisions are inevitable. They have
already occurred and they are definitely going to reoccur.

The Russian satellite Kosmos 2251 had an unplanned intersection with a


commercial satellite, Iridium 33, in 2009. “The resultant explosion created a
massive cloud of debris—perhaps 100,000 pieces of junk” [46].

10. NEED TO MANAGE SATELLITE TRAFFIC

The International Space Station is becoming the O’Hare International Airport of


low Earth orbit, according to a joke that made the rounds at NASA some time
ago. The point is that space is becoming saturated with man-made objects and
there is an increasing need for an air traffic control system for space.

The saturated satellite zone has created “what several specialists see as an
emerging issue for spaceflight in the 21st century: a need to overhaul the way
people manage traffic in space—from human-tended craft and satellites to the
long-standing problem of space debris” [47]. Calls are being made for the creation
of an aerospace version of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Theresa Hitchens was Director of the Center for Defense Information. She
suggested that, “A new aerospace traffic management scheme should include
mandatory notification and consultation when a satellite operator, plans
maneuvers,” and “an international database on satellite and debris orbits” [48].
58 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Others concur with Hitchins’ proposal. For instance, Patricia Grace Smith was
Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal
Aviation Administration. She gave a speech to the The Capitol Hill Club on June
24, 1999, entitled, “Going Public: Moving Toward the Development of a Large-
Scale Space Tourism Business.” Smith concluded:

A significant part of the framework is the system by which we at the FAA


will harmonize growing space launch and reentry activity with our already
very busy air traffic control system. As greater numbers of space launch
vehicles—both expendable and reusable—pass through the atmosphere
going to space, and in the case of RLVs returning from space, we need a
seamless, fully-integrated system to minimize risk and inconvenience to
either aviation or space activity. To accomplish this, we have established a
partnership with other parts of the FAA and other government agencies and
have developed a “concept of operations” for a Space and Air Traffic
Management System, or as we call it SATSM, to meet this need [49].

11. INTERNATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS UNION

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) plays an unheralded but very


significant role in the current geosynchronous satellite orbit system. Gangale
(2007) observed that, “The International Telecommunications Union allocates
positions in the GSO by specifying longitude” [50].

The ITU might be positioned to take on much greater responsibilities. Gangale


(2007) suggested, “With an annex specifying different orbit regimes and requiring
better reporting of orbital elements over the requirements of the Registration
Convention, the Property Rights Convention could provide the initial structure for
a future space traffic control system” [51].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] P.E. Moore, Ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of Space. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 353.
Satellites Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 59

[2] D.K. Publishing, Space: A Visual Encyclopedia. New York: D.K. Publishing Company, 2010, p. 85.
[3] Moore, Oxford, p. 353.
[4] M. Caceres, “ASATS: Bad for Business,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 4, p. 18, April, 2007.
[5] B. Plumer, “Users of Space Must Split the Cleaning Bill,” The Washington Post. Reprinted in the
Albuquerque Journal, p. A9, October 28, 2013.
[6] D.K. Publishing, Space, p. 78.
[7] Caceres, “Bad for Business,” p. 18.
[8] D.K. Publishing, Space, p. 78.
[9] D. Rising, “Satellite Hits Atlantic—This Time,” Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p. C3,
November 12, 2013.
[10] Union of Concerned Scientists, “U.S. Satellite Database,” 2014. [Online]. Available:
www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_weapons_and_global_security/solution/space-weapons/ucs-satellite-
database.html. Accessed 21st Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[11] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Satellite Database,” p. 1.
[12] WISEGeek, “How Many Satellites Are Orbiting the Earth?” 2014. [Online]. Available:
www.wisegeek.com/how-many-satellites-are-orbiting-the-earth-html. Accessed 21st Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[13] Goddard Space Flight Center, “How Many Man-Made Satellites Are Currently Orbiting the Earth?”
WINDOWS to the UNIVERSE, September 11, 1997. [Online]. Available:
www.windows2universe.org/kids_space/sat.html. Accessed 21st Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[14] F. Cain, “How Many Satellites Are in Space?” Universe Today, October 24, 2013. [Online].
Available: www.universetoday.com/42198/how-many-satellites-in-space/. Accessed 21st Feb. 2014,
p. 1.
[15] Caceres, “Bad for Business,” p. 18.
[16] Caceres, “Bad for Business,” p. 18.
[17] T.A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1979, p. 64.
[18] T. Gangale, “A Limited International Agreement on Property Rights,” Proceedings of the American
Institute on Aeronautics and Aeronautics, AIAA 2007-1681, 2007, p. 10.
[19] Plumer, “Cleaning Bill,” p. A9.
[20] Plumer, “Cleaning Bill,” p. A9.
[21] T. Beardsley, “The Way to Go in Space,” Scientific American, February 1999, p. 82.
[22] Beardsley, “The Way,” p. 82.
[23] Heppenheimer, Distant Suns, p. 64.
[24] Heppenheimer, Distant Suns, p. 63.
[25] K. Kennedy, and S. Borenstein, “Dead NASA Satellite Falls into Pacific Ocean. No Reports of
Damage or Debris on Land From 6-Ton Fireball,” Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p. A10,
September 25, 2011.
[26] Kennedy and Borenstein, “Dead NASA,” p. A10.
[27] Rising, “This Time,” p. C3.
[28] The Washington Post, “NASA Satellite Will Strike Earth Somewhere,. Soon,” Albuquerque Journal,
p. A2, September 19, 2011.
[29] Washington Post, “Strike Earth,” p. A2.
[30] Washington Post, “Strike Earth,” p. A2.
[31] Washington Post, “Strike Earth,” p. A2.
[32] Washington Post, “Strike Earth,” p. A2.
[33] Associated Press, “NASA Hints Satellite May Have Crashed to Earth,” Albuquerque Journal, p. A4,
September 24, 2011.
[34] A.P., “NASA Hints,” p. A4.
[35] A.P., “NASA Hints,” p. A4.
[36] A.P., “NASA Hints,” p. A4.
[37] A.P., “NASA Hints,” p. A4.
[38] A.P., “NASA Hints,” p. A4.
[39] Kennedy and Borenstein, “Dead NASA,” p. A10.
[40] Kennedy and Borenstein, “Dead NASA,” p. A10.
[41] Kennedy and Borenstein, “Dead NASA,” p. A10.
[42] Rising, “This Time,” p. C3.
60 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[43] “Satellite to Crash Soon,” Albuquerque Journal, p. A5, September 9, 2013.


[44] “Crash Soon,” p. A5.
[45] “Crash Soon,” p. A5.
[46] D.K. Publishing, Space, p. 85.
[47] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Need to Manage Space Traffic Discussed,”
Daily Launch, March 14, 2008, p. 4.
[48] AIAA, “Space Traffic,” p. 4.
[49] P.G. Smith, “Going Public: Moving Toward the Development of a Large Space Tourism Business.”
June 24, 1999. [Online]. Available: http://www. ast.faa.gov/aboutast/speeches/99jun24.htm. Accessed
7th Aug. 2006, p. 1.
[50] Gangale, “Property Rights,” p. 10.
[51] Gangale, “Property Rights,” p. 10.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 61-72 61

CHAPTER 7

Radiation
Abstract: The potentially devastating consequences of radiation on humans and
spacecraft were examined in this chapter. Radiation was defined and explained. The
deadly nature of gamma rays and cosmic rays was discussed. Solar particles were
considered. The significant amount of radiation was discussed. M dwarf stars were
considered as were solar flares. Energetic transient radiation events were discussed. The
emerging concept of muons was recognized.

Keywords: Alpha particles, Beppo/SAX satellite, Compton Gamma Ray


Observatory Satellite, coronal mass ejections, cosmic rays, energetic transient
radiation events, gamma rays, GLAST burst monitor, hypernova, Keck telescope,
M dwarf stars, muons, passive shielding, photons, quantum, radiation, solar flares,
solar particles, subatomic particles, Van Allen Belt.

1. INTRODUCTION

Radiation may well pose the greatest danger to spacefarers. At the same time,
thanks to the Earth’s protective environment, the Van Allen Belt and the other
planetary defenses, radiation is not as potentially deadly a threat to our planet. But
space travelers will not be protected by the Earth’s electromagnetic shields and
they and their equipment are therefore vulnerable to the devastating effects of a
variety of radiation dangers. Cosmic rays, gamma rays, muons and solar particles
are a quartet of lethal space dangers.

The Sun is the culprit behind most of the radiation in our Solar System. Some
radiation, however, emanates from deep within the universe. M dwarf stars pose
another radiation risk. Energetic transient radiation events are yet another
radiation danger.

2. DEFINITION

Radiation is essentially energy. Darling (2004) explained that radiation is energy


manifested as waves or particles that emanate from a source [1]. Moore (2002)
concurred, describing radiation as energy that is transmitted as electromagnetic
waves, photons or subatomic particles. When manifested as a wave radiation has a
wavelength and frequency. In particle form radiation is a photon or quantum [2].

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
62 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Specific forms of radiation, like gamma rays, cosmic rays, muons and energetic
transient radiation events, will be defined and explained later in this chapter.

3. GAMMA RAYS
A. Gamma Ray Detection
In February 1997 the BeppoSAX satellite, a joint Italian/Dutch space asset,
detected a long- range gamma ray burst. It was named GRB 970228, and its
existence was confirmed by the Hubble Space Telescope. A few months later,
astronomers using the ten-meter Keck telescope determined that GRB 970228
was located nine billion light-years from the Earth [3].

B. Gamma Ray Origins


No one knows with certainty the origins of gamma rays but there are two theories.
Some maintain that when a ‘hypernova’ (or super supernova), dies it collapses in
on itself, producing cosmic ray bursts and a black hole. The alternate theory holds
that when neutron stars collide the interaction produces gamma rays [4]. Garlick
(2004) contends that gamma rays are in fact the brightest objects in the universe
[5].

C. Gamma Ray Bursts


“Gamma ray bursts, are among the most energetic transient events since the Big
Bang,” one recent study claimed. Gonzales and Richards (2004) added, “Wherever
they come from, there is only one form of protection against them; location. Perhaps
we’re just lucky to have avoided a direct gamma ray burst yet” [6].

D. Quantification of Gamma Rays and GRBs


How many gamma rays and gamma ray bursts are there? A few attempts at
quantification can be entertained. The Daily Launch reported in 2008 that the
GLAST Burst Monitor (GBM) telescopes had located twelve “powerful gamma
ray bursts” in a mere forty days [7]. Earlier, the Compton Gamma Ray
Observatory Satellite “detected over 2,700 GRBs” [8].

Darling (2004) believed that gamma ray bursts (GRBs) were the most powerful
and intensive energetic events in the universe, and that “GRBs are typically
registered once or twice a day” [9]. Tyson (2007) agreed and added that, “At least
Radiation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 63

once a day, a brief burst of gamma rays—the highest of high-energy radiation—


unleashes the energy of a thousand supernovas somewhere in the cosmos” [10].

E. Significance of Gamma Rays and GRBs


Plait (2008) described in detail why gamma rays and GRBs are so feared. They
are the largest explosions in the universe, and they can inflict damage from as far
away as 7,000 light-years. They can last from a handful of seconds to several
minutes. The average GRB lasts for about ten seconds. They are beamed, and that
results in greater lethality from a greater distance. A beam can be fifty trillion
miles wide. The energy expended would be equivalent to exploding a one-
megaton nuclear bomb every square mile on the surface of the Earth. People
would be roasted alive or receive a lethal sunburn, and the planet would be
sterilized down to a depth of several yards [11].

One scholarly perspective suggests that the Ordovician extinction was caused by a
gamma ray burst. Adrian Melott is an astronomer at the University of Kansas,
whose research team believes that, “The Ordovician extinction may well have
been caused by a face-to-face encounter with a nearby gamma ray burst” [12].

4. COSMIC RAYS

They travel through the universe at 180,000 miles per hour, comprised largely of
protons, “and they unleash amazing power when they crash into anything.” The
astronauts on the Moon complained about flashes of light in their field of vision,
which turned out to be cosmic rays “ripping through each man’s brain” [13].

A. Composition of Cosmic Rays


Cosmic rays have also been described as subatomic particles moving at the speed
of light. They are comprised of 85% proton, 14% alpha particles and 1% electrons
[14]. There are three types of cosmic rays; solar cosmic rays, galactic cosmic rays
and extragalactic cosmic rays. Solar cosmic rays are emitted by the Sun during
solar flares. Galactic cosmic rays are produced by shockwaves caused by
supernovae, and it is believed that extragalactic cosmic rays emanate from
supermassive black holes [15].

B. Universal Reality of Cosmic Rays


“Cosmic rays permeate the galaxy,” Lewis noted, adding that, “They constantly
strike every body in the Solar System, although atmospheres, planetary magnetic
64 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

fields and especially the Sun’s solar wind all moderate their effect” [16]. Mallove
and Mallott (1989) discussed cosmic ray effects: Solar flares and cosmic rays
would be serious threats to space colonists. Most significant in the cosmic ray flux
are heavier ions such as iron. A single relativistic iron nucleus could ionize atoms
in millions of cells if it were to penetrate human tissue. Nonreplaceable and
nonreproducing cells such as those neurons in the spinal column are destroyed by
ionizing radiation in space. During the 1969 Apollo 12 lunar mission the
astronauts lost between 107 and 104 of their nonreplaceable cells because of
cosmic rays. There is also the risk of cancers from this ionizing radiation [17].

C. Lethality of Cosmic Rays


Cosmic rays are highly energetic charged particles, Harrison (2001) suggested.
They are atomic nuclei moving at high speeds, an estimated 80% of the speed of
light [18]. Wolff (2000) observed the necessity for “protection from cosmic
radiation” [19].

There is “a serious cosmic ray problem,” Eugene O’Neill (2000) declared. He


described the effect on living tissue of the heavy primary cosmic rays, such as
helium, carbon and iron. “When heavy primary cosmic rays pass through
material, they leave a dense trail of ionized atoms. These atoms are highly active
chemically and are so numerous that in living cells they cause death” [20].

The Akeno Giant Air Shower Array covers 100 square km in Japan. This facility
has quantified the significance of cosmic rays. It “detected a few cosmic ray
particles with energy as high as 1020 electron volts” [21].

Cosmic rays have a variety of deleterious effects. They destroy ozone and create
nitrogen oxide, which can lead to acid rain. It is thought that they promote cloud
formation, accelerating climate change. In the Earth’s upper atmosphere they
collide with air and turn into muons, which can penetrate water for a mile and
rock for a half-mile [22].

Cosmic rays are possibly responsible for the eradication of entire species of
animals. Plait (2008) reported on data over the last half-billion years of life on this
planet, and the inescapable conclusion is that every time cosmic rays were at a
peak, so was the rate of species extinction [23].
Radiation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 65

5. SOLAR PARTICLES

Radiation is manifested in two forms, we have already learned, waves and


particles. Solar particles are relatively lethal space objects, because of their
intrinsic properties and the speed at which they move. The sad irony of solar
particles is that the countermeasures might actually be counterproductive to the
promotion of space or terrestrial public health.

A. Alpha Particles are Lethal


Alpha particles are emitted by the Sun. These are entirely helium nuclei and they
are relatively heavy. The magnetic field of the Sun accelerates these particles,
along with electrons and neutrons, to speeds of several hundred miles per second
before propelling them into space. Berman (2011) reported, “This is the radiation
that might truly prove to be the ‘stopper’ for our sci-fi dreams of colonizing other
worlds. Both types, solid particles and electromagnetic waves, quickly sterilize
planet and moon surfaces. They are bad for us” [24]. Spacefarers would typically
receive the radiation equivalent of a CAT scan’s amount of radiation every hour
[25].

B. SEPs
Shepherd and Shepherd (2009) bluntly concluded that, “The need to protect
astronauts from the harmful effects of space radiation in the form of energetic
particles is a problem that must be addressed if manned missions of extended
duration, such as those to Mars, are to be a reality. The most harmful of these
particles are solar energetic particles (SEPs) resulting from large solar flares and
galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) originating from outside our solar system” [26].

C. Shielding may be Counterproductive


Some human tissue might be more vulnerable to and damaged by smaller particles
than from larger items. The problem is that attempts at shielding spacefarers from
alpha particles might merely create a proliferation of smaller ones: Traditional
techniques for protecting spacecraft from these forms of radiation typically
involve a protective shield of material used to absorb the energy of incoming
particles. Although these so-called passive shields can be effective at blocking
particles with lower energies, the mass required for protection against energetic
particles such as GCRs becomes impractical for use in such spacecraft. In
addition, higher energy particles colliding with a passive shield produce a cascade
of lower energy particles that could be even more damaging to human cells than
66 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

the original particles [27]. Harrison (2001) also recognized and warned about
particle dangers. He suggested that solar flares usually also produce “solar particle
events” [28]. The Sun flares constantly, but only the largest eruptions result in
particle events. “There were solar storms of lethal intensity” in February 1956,
November 1960 and August 1972 [29].

6. SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF RADIATION

Radiation is one of the fundamental and most common things in the universe. It
exists everywhere, including our bodies, but the Earth’s protective mechanisms
like the atmosphere, magnetosphere and the Van Allen Belt keep us safe on this
planet. Spacefarers leave these protections behind as they enter outer space.

Space tourism pioneer Michel Van Pelt (2005) recognized the quantitative
significance of radiation in space. He observed that, “Astronauts in low Earth
orbit pick up the same amount of radiation in a week than people are normally
exposed to in a year on Earth” [30]. Collins (2000) offered a similar analysis, “A
passenger spending a few days in orbit will receive as much radiation as most
people receive in a year on the ground” [31]. The American Institute for
Aeronautics and Astronautics’ newsletter, the Daily Launch, reported in 2008
that, “Dangerous levels of radiation in space could bar astronauts from a mission
to Mars and limit prolonged activity on the Moon, experts now caution” [32].

7. SIGNIFICANT EFFECTS ON HUMANS

Radiation is lethal to humans. The best evidence suggests a positive and linear
relationship between radiation exposure and human health effects. Limited
experience with nuclear power plant accidents, nuclear weapon explosions and
astronauts indicates that the more radiation one is exposed to, the less favorable
the health outcome will be in the long run.

A. Lethal Doses of Radiation


“The Sun sometimes expels sudden bursts of radiation during so-called solar
flares, solar particle events or coronal mass ejections. This phenomenon can result
in doses of thousands of milli- sieverts, up to 20,000, which could easily be fatal,”
according to Van Pelt [33]. O’Neill (2000) further explained the lethal
possibilities associated with these extreme solar events:

Occasionally, for reasons we are only slowly coming to understand, the


Sun emits sudden bursts of radiation called flares. These rays travel
Radiation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 67

almost as fast as light, and reach Earth within minutes. When they do,
they cause brilliant auroral displays in the upper reaches of our
atmosphere. Very rarely, every few decades, particularly intense flares
occur, which saturate Earth with radiation, temporarily black out much of
our long distance radio communications, and even affect Earth’s
magnetic field. Such an event last occurred in the 1950s. If there had
been astronauts on their way to the Moon at that time, they would almost
surely have been killed by that flare [34].

B. Brain Damage
The human brain is particularly susceptible to radiation. Berman (2011) explained
that brain neurons are annihilated by high speed solar particles. It has been estimated
that an astronaut would lose between thirteen per cent and forty per cent of his/her
brain cells during a two-year trip to Mars [35]. Similarly, Heppenheimer (1979)
noted, “There is danger from heavy atomic nuclei, such as iron, which stream in as
high-energy cosmic rays. They can destroy cells, acting like hot needles as they pass
through the body. Their effect on the brain is particularly damaging, since nerve
tissue does not grow back when damaged” [36].

C. Radiation Belts
Radiation belts have been discovered around several of the planets and they likely
exist elsewhere as well. For instance, in addition to Earth, Jupiter, Saturn,
Neptune and Uranus all also possess radiation belts.

In the Jupiter radiation belt, there is an estimated 200,000 rads of radiation from
electrons, and also 50,000 background rads. The estimated combined radiation
exposure of a quarter of a million rads compares to the number of rads resulting in
human death, which is approximately 500 rads [37].

D. Radiation Risk
SpaceNews (2013) recently assessed the radiation risk incurred by travelers to
Mars, “Near the top of the list of dangers would have to be the radiation exposure
during the round trip voyage through the solar system” [38].

E. GCRs and SEPs


There are actually two different radiation risks in space. One is the long-term
absorption of galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) and the other involves short-term
68 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

exposure to bursts of high-energy solar energy particles. NASA sent the Curiosity
Rover to Mars to measure radiation levels with the Radiation Assessment
Detector, and found that “in terms of accumulated dose, it’s like getting a whole-
body CT scan once every five or six days” [39].

8. SIGNIFICANT EFFECT ON SPACECRAFT

Machines are also adversely affected by radiation. For instance, the ESA
navigation satellite GIOVE-B suffered a “sudden event upset” resulting in a
complete shutdown of all functions after the onboard computer failed following
exposure to a temporary spike in radiation in October of 2008. The same thing
happened to the German satellite TerraSAR-X [40].

It is widely acknowledged that radiation is problematic for spacecraft in a number


of ways. According to the Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia, “The intense
bombardment of a spacecraft can saturate the sensitive instruments, upset the
onboard computer systems and interfere with communications with the Earth”
[41]. Kervendal, Kirk and Meinke (2009) concurred, noting that, “Spacecraft
carrying human missions to Mars will be exposed to ionizing radiation for
extended periods of time. Exposure of the crew and instrumentation to such
radiation must be minimized” [42].

The frequency with which radiation can interfere with human activity in space
was quantified by Plait, who asserted that “many” civilian satellites have been
destroyed by radiation after solar flare events [43]. When the metal in a satellite is
struck by an x-ray or high-energy gamma-ray the metal becomes ionized and
some claim that shrapnel may be thrown off. Electronic components may be
destroyed and hardware short-circuited [44].

9. SOLAR FLARES

Solar flares have been mentioned repeatedly throughout this chapter. They are a
major source of radiation, both waves and particles. We have learned that although
they are a typical solar occurrence they can have devastating consequences.

British commercial space tourism pioneer David Ashford expressed concern over
solar flares. He explained that the normal or regular exposure of space travelers to
radiation exceeds that of people on the Earth, such that a week in space equals a
year’s annual radiation exposure on the planet. In space the daily radiation
exposure is roughly 0.3 milli sieverts [45].
Radiation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 69

During solar flares the radiation exposure is off the charts. Solar flares produce
between 1,000 and 20,000 milli sieverts. The death exposure threshold is
approximately 3,000 milli sieverts [46].

Solar flares eject billions of tons of subatomic particles into space at speeds
approaching five million miles per hour. A 2005 solar flare sent radiation to the
Earth within fifteen minutes of the eruption on the surface of the Sun. Not only
are deadly radiation particles involved, but high- intensity light is generated, “an
incredibly strong pulse of light” including x-rays and gamma rays [47].

10. M DWARF STARS

M dwarf stars are a lesser-known astronomical danger. “M dwarf stars pose


additional problems for life,” according to Gonzales and Richards (2004). “Like
the Sun, they exhibit flares. Some are stronger than solar flares; in particular, the
radioactive emissions are greater by a factor of one hundred to one thousand.”
Gonzales and Richards concluded, “Not only would such flares threaten surface
life, they would probably strip away a planet’s atmosphere more quickly as well”
[48]. In addition, planets or spacefarers in the galactic vicinity of an M dwarf star
“will be more susceptible to the damaging effects of short-lived ultraviolet and
particle radiation events, stellar flares and nearby supernovae” [49].

M dwarf stars might cause planetary destruction in yet another way. Their close
presence would cause perturbation of nearby planets, resulting in a greater
likelihood “that such planets will perturb each other’s orbits” [50]. The eventual
result will be a gravitationally-induced planetary collision.

11. ENERGETIC TRANSIENT RADIATION EVENTS

Energetic transient radiation events are different in the intrinsic nature of the
threat they pose to the Earth. These phenomenon do not themselves endanger the
Earth, but they do threaten the ozone layer and thereby pose a problem for
planetary survival.

“Extraterrestrial radiation bursts can damage the ozone layer in our upper
atmosphere, resulting in more destructive radiation on Earth’s surface. Such
‘energetic transient radiation events,’ in order of increasing duration, include
active galactic nucleus (AGN) outbursts, supernovae, and gamma ray bursts,”
according to Gonzales and Richards [51].
70 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

12. MUONS

I don’t remember muons from my science classes in elementary school, high


school and college. While they somehow escaped my attention, astronomers
fortunately have been aware of them since they were discovered by Carl
Anderson in 1936.

Muons are short-lived space objects. Very short-lived. Their life span is two-
millionth of a second. But that is in Earth time, and does not take into account the
exceptions to time as we understand it due to the space-time continuum, as
theorized by Einstein [52]. A muon milli- second is considerably longer in the
relativistic reality of cosmic truth.

Muons weigh 200 times more than a typical electron. They damage DNA and
cause cancer. They are created when cosmic rays, primarily protons, arrive in our
neighborhood and enter the Earth’s atmosphere thirty-five miles up, resulting in
“a chain reaction of subatomic debris that creates muons” [53].

They are created by the interaction between invading cosmic rays and the Earth’s
environment. Plait (2008) warned that if a large-enough wave of cosmic rays
struck the Earth it could radiate muons all over the planet, “killing vast numbers
of plants and animals” [54]. It has been calculated that under certain
circumstances as many as 300 billion muons per square inch could strike the
Earth, resulting in doses at least ten times the lethal level [55].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
Avoidance, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 46.
[2] P.E. Moore, Ed., The Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p.
330.
[3] P. Plait, Death from the Skies. New York: Viking Press, 2008. pp. 112-3.
[4] M.A. Garlick, Astronomy: A Visual Guide. Sydney, Australia: Firefly Books, 2004, p. 270.
[5] Garlick, Visual Guide, p. 270.
Radiation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 71

[6] G. Gonzales, and J.W. Richards, The Privileged Planet. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing Inc.,
2004, pp. 163-4.
[7] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “GLAST Detects 12 Gamma Ray Bursts,” Daily
Launch, August 1, 2008, p. 3.
[8] Plait, Death, p. 110.
[9] Darling, Universal Book, p. 202.
[10] N.D.G. Tyson, Death by Black Holes and Other Cosmic Quandaries. New York: W.W. Norton &
Sons, 2007, p. 279.
[11] Plait, Death, pp. 120-2, 132, 302.
[12] Tyson, Cosmic Quandaries, p. 281.
[13] B. Berman, The Sun’s Heartbeat and Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers Our Planet.
New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2011, p. 110.
[14] Darling, Universal Book, p. 126.
[15] Darling, Universal Book, p. 126.
[16] J.S. Lewis, Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown. Reading,
Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998, p. 126.
[17] E. Mallove, and G. Mallott, The Starflight Handbook. New York; John Wiley & Sons, 1989, p. 170.
[18] A.A. Harrison, Spaceflight: The Human Dimension. Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 2001, pp. 49-51.
[19] H. Wolff, “Space Resort,” Architectural Design, vol. 70, no. 2, March, 2000, p. 20.
[20] G.K. O’Neill, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. Toronto, Canada: Apogee Books, 2000,
pp. 51-53.
[21] E.F. Taylor, and J.A. Wheeler, Exploring Black Holes: Introduction to General Relativity, San
Francisco: Addison Wesley Longman, 2000, p. 1-22.
[22] Plait, Death, pp. 120-2.
[23] Plait, Death, pp. 120-2.
[24] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, pp. 125-6.
[25] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, pp. 125-6.
[26] S.G. Shepherd, and J.P.G. Shepherd, “Toroidal Magnetic Spacecraft Shield Used to Deflect Charged
Energetic Particles,” Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, vol. 46, no. 1, February 2009, p. 177.
[27] Shepherd and Shepherd, “Toroidal Magnetic,” p. 177.
[28] Harrison, Spaceflight, p. 49.
[29] Harrison, Spaceflight, p. 49.
[30] M. Van Pelt, Space Tourism: Adventures in Earth’s Orbit and Beyond. New York: Plexus Publishing
Ltd., 2005, p. 43.
[31] P. Collins, “Space Tourism: The Key to the Upcoming Economic Boom,” Architectural Design, vol.
70, no. 2, March 2000, p. 20.
[32] SpaceNews, “The Real Radiation Danger in Going to Mars,” redOrbit, May 30, 2013. [Online].
Available: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1112860687/mars-trip-radiation/. Accessed 4th June
2014, p. 1.
[33] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 43.
[34] O’Neill, High Frontier, p. 52.
[35] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, p. 124.
[36] T.A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1979, p. 149.
[37] Moore, Oxford, p. 330.
[38] SpaceNews, “Real Radiation,” p. 1.
[39] SpaceNews, “Real Radiation,” p. 1.
[40] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Radiation Spike Forces European Navigation
Satellite Into Safe Mode,” Daily Launch, October 2, 2008, p. 3.
[41] Moore, Oxford, p. 330.
[42] E. Kervendal, D. J. Kirk, and R. B. Meinke, “Spacecraft Radiation Shielding Using Ultralightweight
Superconducting Magnets,” Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, vol. 46, no. 5, October-November
2009.
72 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[43] Plait, Death, p. 49.


[44] Plait, Death, p. 49.
[45] D. Ashford, Spaceflight Revolution, London: Imperial College Press, 2002, pp. 94-5.
[46] Ashford, Spaceflight Revolution, p. 95.
[47] Plait, Death, pp. 46-49.
[48] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, p. 134.
[49] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, p. 134.
[50] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, p. 135.
[51] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, p. 161.
[52] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, p. 173.
[53] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, p. 173.
[54] Plait, Death, p. 51.
[55] Plait, Death, p. 51.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 73-82 73

CHAPTER 8

Black Holes
Abstract: This chapter discussed the concept of the black hole. Black holes were defined
and differentiated into three groups; mini-black holes, intermediate black holes and
supermassive black holes. Black hole effects include extraordinary gravitational pull and
the emission of radiation. Matter is also crushed into zero volume, and the spaghettification
phenomenon means that black holes stretch things to death. Black holes are fearsome
objects, in part because they are dangerous from a distance and also because you can
accidentally get relatively close to them. The future destruction of the Earth by a black hole
was vividly described. There are about two dozen black holes in the Milky Way and
millions in the universe. The dangers posed by the accretion disk were explained and
described.

Keywords: Accretion disk, black hole, blasting, electromagnetic radiation,


electromagnetic spectrum, escape velocity, event horizon, galaxy, gravity, mini-
black holes, neutron star, primordial, Sagittarius a star, shock wave, singularity,
sonic boom, spaghettification, supermassive black holes, ultramassive black hole,
zero volume.

1. INTRODUCTION

Black holes are not exactly common knowledge, and there are many public
misconceptions about precisely what is involved with this astronomical
phenomenon. These space entities definitely pose a risk to spacefarers and could
conceivably threaten the Earth, albeit in slow motion.

We might liken black holes to quicksand. They are virtually invisible and it is
possible for an unsuspecting space object to wind up in the inexorable and
irresistible grasp of this cosmic phenomenon. Black holes are exceptionally
powerful universal forces, and the better they are understood the easier we can
avoid or avert their consequences.

2. DEFINITION

“Sealed off from the universe, black holes are among the strangest objects known
to science,” according to Ian Ridpath (2008) [1]. Ridpath added that when stars
die and decay they become neutrons, which transform into quarks [2].

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
74 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Black holes are very different from most space objects. They are invisible, for one
thing. Garlick (2004) offered this operational definition of a black hole:

When a very massive star dies, the neutron star left over is so massive
that it cannot remain balanced against its own gravity. The neutron star
shatters. It shrinks to a single point. Its gravity becomes so magnified that
it sucks in everything—including light. The object becomes a black hole.
Black holes are strange objects indeed. They have no material form at
all—only their gravity remains. Everything else has compressed to the
point of undefined mathematical size at the center of the hole called the
singularity. There, the forces of physics cease to operate. Gravity is
essentially infinite [3].

3. MINI BLACK HOLES

There is a typology of black holes. According to this trio of kinds of black holes,
they can be mini-black holes (or primordial), intermediate (or stellar), or
supermassive. In this section mini- black holes will be discussed.

Milton (2007) realized that mini-black holes, or primordial black holes, are
theoretically indicated as having existed early in the age of the universe [4].
Darling (2004) hypothesized that a countless number of mini-black holes may
exist throughout the universe [5].

4. INTERMEDIATE BLACK HOLES

Intermediate black holes are the middle type of black hole. They are also known
as stellar black holes. The AIAA Daily Launch reported in 2009 that a new class
of intermediate black holes had been identified [6].

5. SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLES

Supermassive black holes (SMBH) are frightening and formidable astronomical


phenomenon. They are the third and final type of black hole. Adams and Loughlin
(1999) compared SMBHs to stellar black holes, “Such stellar black holes seem
insignificant compared to a supermassive black hole” [7].

SMBHs are well-known astronomical phenomenon. Plait (2008) recalled that all
galaxies are thought to have a supermassive black hole at the center of the system.
Black Hole Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 75

For instance, at the center of our galaxy (the Milky Way) there resides Sagittarius
A Star*, which contains 4,000,000 times the Sun’s mass [8]. Tyson (2007)
suggested that, “We now know that supermassive black holes are common in the
core of galaxies” [9].

6. GRAVITATIONAL PULL

Gravity is the secret to the black hole. They have precious little mass, so their
power lies in the gravitational pull they exert upon their space neighbors.

“At their largest, at the heart of giant galaxies in deep space, ‘supermassive’ black
holes earn their superlative, concentrating the mass of a billion suns. So strong is
their gravitational pull that nothing—not even light—can escape,” noted Fleck
(2006) [10].

7. RADIATION

Gravity is one of the two potential dangers associated with black holes. The other
is radiation. The gravitational influence may be more dramatic, as objects are
stretched and elongated on the cusp of the black hole, but the radiation effects are
just as lethal.

“As gas is drawn into a black hole it gets very hot. This energy is released as jets
of radiation (usually x-rays) that are blasted deep into space,” one source
explained [11]. Moore (2002) concurred, noting that “Attempts to discover stellar
black holes must rely on the propagation of radiation in the vicinity of the hole”
[12].

8. BLACK HOLES ARE FEARSOME OBJECTS

One team of researchers (Gonzales and Richards, 2004) has recognized the truly
frightening and even fearsome nature of the black hole. They noted that, “Black
holes are fearsome objects, distorting space, time and common sense, so densely
packed that not even light can escape their horizons” [13].

Dormant black holes seem to lie in wait, like a predator at a water hole in the
jungle, awaiting its prey. When a space body wanders too close, the black hole
passively waits to pull its victim within itself. High-energy electromagnetic
radiation and particle radiation are associated with black holes. So are gamma ray
bursts [14].
76 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

“Without a doubt, the most spectacular way to die in space is to fall into a black
hole,” according to Tyson. He added, “Where else in the universe can you lose
your life by being ripped apart, atom by atom?” [15]. It is believed that if
someone was caught in a black hole they would stay intact until the tidal force
exerted by the black hole exceeded the cohesion of the person’s molecules. At
that point they would snap into two pieces at the midsection, followed shortly by
additional bifurcation until finally the body becomes “a stream of constituent
atoms,” until they too snap apart [16].
9. QUANTIFICATION & RELATIVE RISK OF BLACK HOLES

It is difficult to estimate the number of black holes. And we can’t really count
them because they are invisible, although using orbit variation measurements and
radiation readings we can spot them.
We can consider a number of estimates of the number of black holes. Darling
(2004) suggested that in excess of two dozen stellar black holes have been
identified in the Milky Way [17].

Adams and Loughlin (1999) arrived at a far different conclusion. They noted on
the order of “a million or so stellar black holes in our galaxy” [18]. In a similar
vein, another source referred to the possibility of 100 billion supermassive black
holes “in our part of the universe alone” [19].
10. MATTER CRUSHED TO ZERO VOLUME
There is reasoned speculation, based upon accumulated knowledge and extant
theory, that postulate the events transpiring when a space object is captured by a
black hole. The bottom line is that matter becomes radically transformed, crushed
and compacted. The key is the event horizon.
The event horizon is the point of no return. Literally. With respect to black holes,
the event horizon designates the precise point in space where the necessary escape
velocity of a space object cannot be generated. The event horizon is the boundary
of the black hole, in a sense [20]. After it crosses the event horizon, a non-rotating
space object would be crushed to essentially zero volume and virtually infinite
density at the singularity, the center of the black hole [21].
11. DESCRIPTION OF EARTH DESTRUCTION BY BLACK HOLE

We are able to hypothesize how a black hole would destroy the Earth. Thanks to
computer modeling and advancements in the field if geoastrology it is possible to
Black Hole Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 77

speculate intelligently about how our planet might face its demise in a cosmic
confrontation with a black hole.

As a black hole enters the Milky Way and moves towards the Earth it would
capture Jupiter and Uranus and fling Saturn and Neptune deep into space. The
Sun and black hole’s gravitational fields would combine causing the planet to
become grossly distorted with extreme seismic activity along fault lines. Finally,
according to Adams and Loughlin (1999), “Earth is pulled like taffy into a disk of
vaporized rock which forms a whirlpool in its stampede to enter the impinging
black hole” [22].

Another space authority has speculated about the demise of the Earth by an
encounter with a black hole. Tyson (2007) recorded the hypothetical event, “If an
interloping black star comes too close to us, it will dine on the entire planet, first
crumbling the solid Earth into a rubber pile by virtue of its unstoppable tidal
forces. The remains would then be extruded through the fabric of time-space,
descending as a long string of atoms through the black hole’s event horizon, down
to its singularity” [23].

12. SPAGHETTIFICATION

Black holes are anomalies, exceptions to the rules of physics operant elsewhere in
the universe.

They are not normal and typical space objects, in any sense, but rather entities
with very unusual properties and powers. One such power is spaghettification.

Plait (2008) explained this process. If a spacefarer was 10,000 miles away from a
black hole about five times the mass of the Sun, with an event horizon eighteen
miles across, that person would be drawn to the event horizon in a few seconds.
The gravitational force would be 270,000 times that of the Earth’s gravity. At five
hundred miles from the event horizon the spacefarer is feeling the effect of the
Earth’s gravity increased 550,000 times and blood is pooling in the head and feet
before they burst open. When within 50 miles of the event horizon gravity is
700,000 times that of the Earth. The spacefarer has elongated, stretched into a
miles-long thin piece of spaghetti. Finally that object is pulled into the black hole
[24].

Tyson (2007) offered a similar perspective on the spaghettification process. “All


parts of your body are moving towards the same spot—the black hole’s center. So
78 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

while you’re getting ripped apart head to toe, you will also extrude through the
fabric of time and space, like toothpaste squeezed through a tube.” Tyson added
that, “To all the words in the English language that describe ways to die, we add
the term, ‘spaghettification’” [25].

13. BLACK HOLES ARE DANGEROUS BECAUSE THEY CAN BE


APPROACHED

It stands to reason that if a potential danger is seen in time it might be avoidable.


This is true for spacefarers in outer space and also for animals on the Earth. One
of the reasons black holes are so deadly is that their invisibility renders them
lethal. We might conclude that this special property of black holes makes them
particularly dangerous to spacefarers as well as planets in their path. Plait (2008)
realized that, “Black holes are dangerous because you can get closer to them.” He
added that this proximity allows the black hole to ingest the victim, and that the
gravity increases dramatically the closer to the black hole one gets [26].

14. BLACK HOLES ARE DANGEROUS FROM A DISTANCE

Black holes are a dual-threat space phenomenon in that they present a pair of
potential problems. Objects in close proximity to the black hole are in danger of
being enveloped, while radiation threatens space objects not in relatively close
quarters to the black hole.

Black holes sometimes engage in activity that has been called, ‘blasting.’ This
term refers to the tendency of black holes to radiate light and heat. Plait (2008)
observed that black holes generate and send out 10,000 times the energy of the
Sun as deadly cosmic x-rays. He concluded, “So you don’t even have to be
particularly close to a black hole for it to be dangerous” [27].

15. ACCRETION DISK DANGERS

Black holes have four parts, in a sense. There is the singularity at the very core of
the entity. Surrounding that is the body of the black hole. The accretion disk is the
entrance to the black hole, and just outside of that lies the event horizon. At this
point we will consider the risks posed by the accretion disk itself.

The irony of the accretion disks is that they are among the brightest objects in the
universe, yet they are part of black holes. The accretion disks are hot, due to the
friction created by incoming objects entering the black hole. This friction creates
Black Hole Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 79

heat on the magnitude of millions of degrees [28]. This friction-created heat is


radiated into space as energy across the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio
waves and x-rays [29].

16. BLACK HOLE FOUR DANGERS

This is an appropriate topic for this section about black holes because it
summarizes the primary dangers associated with these astronomical phenomenon.
Black holes are natural phenomenon of incredible power whose gravity and
radiation characteristics are certainly noteworthy.

Tremendous energy is generated at the moment when the dying star is


transformed into a black star. This energy is equivalent to one billion billion times
the output of the Sun. The initial manifestation of this energy is the creation of
twin beams of light travelling in opposite directions. These beams blast their way
out of the star and immediately begin turning cosmic detritus into high-speed
subatomic particles and deadly radiation [30].

Two of the main black hole consequences of concern to us are causally related.
Shock waves are created when the twin beams crash into the remaining matter
from the star and the cloud of dust and gas surrounding the dying star. The shock
waves, in turn, propagate sonic booms [31].

“Unimaginable turbulence” is created when the beams interact with the shock
waves and the gas and dust and other cosmic material in the vicinity of the
embryonic black hole. Gamma rays are generated in tremendous numbers during
this process as magnetic fields and high temperature interact with the twin beams
[32]. Tyson (2007) added that, “When seen from beyond the shell, two powerful
beams travel in opposite directions” [33].

17. EINSTEIN PREDICTED BLACK HOLES

Albert Einstein’s theoretical work in physics allowed him to understand the


existence of black holes before their existence was empirically verified. NASA
observed, “Most famously, black holes were predicted by Einstein’s general
theory of relativity which showed that when a massive star dies, it leaves behind a
dense remnant core” [34].
80 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

18. BLACK HOLES ARE DIFFICULT TO STUDY

It is not easy to study black holes. For one thing, they’re invisible, because light
cannot escape their incredible gravity. They have to be discerned through close
analysis of their immediate environment. As NASA noted, “Scientists can’t
directly observe back holes with telescopes that detect x-rays, light, or other forms
of electromagnetic radiation. We can, however, infer the presence of black holes
and study them by detecting their effect on other matter nearby” [35].

Sometimes the effects on the other matter are dramatic and traumatic and not
difficult to ascertain. A NASA online document reported, “Recent discoveries
offer some tantalizing evidence that black holes have a dramatic effect on their
neighbors around them, emitting powerful gamma rays” [36]. One additional fact
should be borne in mind about black holes— they have ten times the mass of our
Sun, crammed into a sphere about the size of New York City [37].

19. ULTRAMASSIVE BLACK HOLES

We learned earlier in this chapter that there were three types of black holes; mini-
black holes, intermediate black holes and supermassive black holes. But recent
research might have modified this typology by requiring the inclusion of a fourth
category of black holes, the ultramassive black holes.

A NASA online document introduced ultramassive black holes, “Astronomers


refer to black holes of this size as ‘ultramassive’ black holes and only know of a
few confirmed examples” [38]. A sample of eighteen galaxy clusters was
conducted by NASA to determine the typical size of black holes. Scientists were
surprised that ten of the eighteen galaxies contained an ultramassive black hole,
between 10 and 40 billion times the mass of our Sun [39].

“Our results show that there may be many more ultra massive black holes in the
universe than previously thought,” according to Stanford Univesity astronomer
Julie Hiavarek-Larrondo [40]. NASA commented that, “The black hole masses
derived by Hiavarek-Larrondo and her colleagues were about ten times larger than
those derived from standard relationships between black hole mass and the
properties of their host galaxy” [41].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.
Black Hole Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 81

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] I. Ridpath, Astronomy, New York: D.K. Publishing, 2008, p. 67.
[2] Ridpath, Astronomy, p. 67.
[3] M.A. Garlick, Astronomy: A Visual Guide. Sydney, Australia: Firefly Books, 2004, p. 166.
[4] J. Milton, Ed., Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of Astronomy, New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2007, pp. 38-9.
[5] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 68.
[6] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Intermediate Black Holes Identified,” Daily
Launch, July 2, 2009, p. 3.
[7] F. Adams, and G. Loughlin, The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity, New York:
The Free Press, 1999, pp. 124-5.
[8] P. Plait, Death from the Skies. New York: Viking Books, 2008, p. 247.
[9] N.D.G. Tyson, Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries. New York: W.W. Norton and
Sons, 2007, p. 287.
[10] J. Fleck, “Black Holes Set Deep in Space. Dust, Gas Sucked in at Incredible Speed,” Albuquerque
Journal, p. D1, April 25, 2006.
[11] D.K. Publications, Space: A Visual Analysis. New York: D.K. Publications, 2010, pp. 230-1.
[12] P.E. Moore, Ed., Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 56.
[13] G. Gonzales, and J.W. Richards, The Privileged Planet. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing Inc.,
2004, p. 102.
[14] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, p. 102.
[15] Tyson, Cosmic Quandaries, p. 283.
[16] Tyson, Cosmic Quandaries, pp. 284-5.
[17] Darling, Universal Book, p. 68.
[18] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, p. 125.
[19] D.K. Publications, Space, p. 231.
[20] Moore, Oxford, p. 57.
[21] Moore, Oxford, p. 57.
[22] Tyson, Cosmic Quandaries, p. 278.
[23] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, pp. 126-8.
[24] Tyson, Cosmic Quandaries, p. 285.
[25] Plait, Death, pp. 145-7.
[26] Plait, Death, p. 144.
[27] Plait, Death, p. 150.
[28] Plait, Death, p. 149.
[29] Plait, Death, p. 149.
[30] Plait, Death, pp. 118-9.
[31] Tyson, Cosmic Quandaries, p. 281.
[32] Plait, Death, pp. 118-9.
[33] Plait, Death, pp. 118-9.
[34] United States. NASA, “Black Holes,” 2014. [Online]. Available:
http://www.science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-area/blackholes/. Accessed 21st
Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[35] NASA, “Black Holes,” p. 1.
[36] NASA, “Black Holes,” p. 1.
[37] NASA, “Black Holes,” p. 1.
82 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[38] United States. NASA, “Ultramassive Black Holes,” 2014. [Online]. Available:
www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/chandra/news/ultra-black-holes.html. Accessed
21st Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[39] NASA, “Ultramassive,” p. 1.
[40] NASA, “Ultramassive,” p. 1.
[41] NASA, “Ultramassive,” p. 1.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 83-94 83

CHAPTER 9

Space Weather
Abstract: Space weather was the subject of this chapter. Space weather was defined
and both solar and non-solar causes were considered. Geomagnetic storms were
discussed. The potentially lethal nature of CMEs was examined. Solar flares and their
extreme consequences for the Earth were analyzed, as were sunspots. The destructive
effects of space weather were discussed. Space weather studies were considered, as was
space weather radar and a space weather shield. Three types of solar storms were
mentioned. The space weather-related Canadian blackout of 1989 was discussed. Space
weather programs were examined, the NSWP in particular. The environmental
significance of space weather was documented. The role of space weather in the
decayed orbit of Skylab was considered.

Keywords: Active region 5395, ADEOS-2, Advanced Composition Explorer,


Canadian blackout of 1989, Central New York Railroad, CME, decayed orbit,
Deccan Herald, Galaxy 4 Satellite, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Sea
Winds Instrument, National Space Weather Program, Skylab, Solar and
Heliospheric Observatory, solar flares, sunspots, University of Strathclyde.

1. INTRODUCTION

Space weather is quite probably one of the lesser-known and least understood
astronomical phenomenon salient to this analysis of space dangers. Relatively
little popular attention has been paid to this topic, and there is a similar dearth of
publicized or widely disseminated scholarly material on space weather.

The Sun is the most powerful entity in our Solar System, the benefactor of the
Milky Way. As such, it stands to reason that there would be negative
consequences to the Earth of all that power, and space weather exemplifies those
negative effects. Coronal Mass Ejections, solar flares, geomagnetic storms and
solar particle radiation will be considered. Attention will also be paid to space
weather programs, radar, and studies, and a space weather shield will be analyzed.

2. DEFINITION

Space weather will be defined operationally throughout this chapter. But to avoid
potential misunderstanding it might be prudent to offer an explicit definition of
this term. I will define space weather as did the Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary
of Astronomy—space weather is the immediate physical environment between the

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
84 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Earth and the Sun [1]. That respected reference work specified solar wind, coronal
mass ejections and solar activity as salient space weather variables [2].

3. SOLAR & NON-SOLAR CAUSES

The primary cause of space weather is the Sun, most would agree. However, it is
evident that there are other factors capable of influencing the physical
environment in space. This section will document the primacy of the Sun in
affecting space weather while also acknowledging and discussing alternate
factors.

A. Solar Sources
Space weather “always comes from the sun,” one authority suggested [3]. In fact
the Sun is the primary factor in the generation of space weather. The American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ basic newsletter, the Daily Launch,
recently reported on the decrease in solar wind, and how that resulted in an
increase in cosmic radiation [4].

B. Non-Solar Sources
But there are non-solar causes of space weather, as well. The Daily Launch noted,
“Recent studies have shown that as much as one-fifth of space weather is not
caused by solar activity” [5].

4. GEOMAGNETIC STORMS

Geomagnetic storms are one of three types of solar storms. They can endanger
mankind and machine alike, and they are clearly one of the primary space dangers
to spacefarers. Geomagnetic storms are global disruptions of the Earth’s magnetic
field, lasting up to a day and a half, typically following two or three days after
severe solar disturbances [6].

A. THEMIS Project
NASA scientists, in conjunction with colleagues at the University of California at
Los Angeles, analyzed geomagnetic storms in 2008 through the Time History of
Events and Microscale Interactions (THEMIS) project. The Associated Press
reported that, “UCLA scientists confirmed the storm, about 80,000 miles from
Earth, was triggered by a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnection. Every so
often the Earth’s magnetic field lines are stretched like rubber bands by solar
Space Weather Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 85

energy, snap, are thrown back to Earth and reconnect, in effect creating a short
circuit” [7].

B. 1859 Electromagnetic Storm


A survey of recent electromagnetic storms was provided by Berman (2011). On
September 1-2, 1859, telegraph lines in Europe and the U.S. were fried, telegraph
terminals exploded, and telegraph operators were found unconscious at their
machines. The northern lights were so bright that they awakened people, who
assumed it was dawn and began their day. That was “the most powerful
geomagnetic storm ever experienced” [8].

Observers were struck by the fact that the telegraph lines functioned even after the
power source was no longer connected, “Such an event happened in 1859, when
radiation reached the Earth’s surface and caused parts of the fledgling telegraph
network to spark, and even function once batteries were removed” [9].

Redd (2013) corroborated the previous account, “Telegraph operators report being
shocked— literally—by their instruments. Even after unhooking them from the
power supply, messages still could be transmitted, powered by the currents in the
atmosphere” [10].

C. May 1921 Electromagnetic Storm


The second-worst geomagnetic storm occurred in May of 1921. Like the 1859
storm, telegraph lines were ravaged in 1921. The New York Central Railroad
signal and switching operation was knocked out of operation, and fires engulfed
the Central New England Railway station [11].

“A relatively mild solar storm” struck in November of 2003. It caused transformer


malfunctions and systems failure resulting in blackouts in Northern Europe, the
astronauts in the International Space Station were evacuated to their radiation
shelter, and the Goddard Space Flight Center Space Science Mission Operations
Team reported that 59% of the Earth and Space Science missions were impacted.
The ADEOS-2 Spacecraft, carrying the NASA SeaWinds instrument, was lost to
the storm [12].

D. Projected Geomagnetic Storm Damage


A final indication of the severity of geomagnetic storms was documented in a
May 2008 American government report on this topic. It was estimated that a
86 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

major sunstorm would cause between one and two trillion dollars of damage in
the first year alone, and that a minimum of four to ten years would be required
before recovery [13].

5. CMEs
A. Definition
Coronal mass ejections are better known by the acronym CME. Milton (2007)
noted that they are “the most powerful kind of transient solar phenomena and
have a significant effect on the solar wind” [14]. CMEs are material ejected by the
Sun associated with the Sun’s magnetic field. During periods of high solar activity
there may be one or two CMEs daily, while during the solar minimum there is one
CME every three to ten days. Most CMEs are not accompanied by a solar flare
[15].

B. CME Effects
Plait (2008) discussed CMEs and their potential for inflicting damage. CMEs
expend their energy accelerating particles. Because they involve a large area of
the Sun, CMEs have been described as “solar hurricanes” capable of propelling
one trillion tons of matter into space (or directly towards the Earth) at a million
miles per hour. As the CME is shot from the Sun and enters space it expands to
tens of millions of miles across. “A vast shock wave is created” and the result is
“an interplanetary sonic boom” [16].

The potential damage from a CME is astonishing. Newman (2011) noted, “Many
of the orbiting satellites that are crucial to the economy and modern life could be
knocked silent for up to a decade if the Sun were to spew massive amounts of
charged particles toward Earth, as it has in the past” [17]. Redd (2013) concurred,
and added that, “It takes several hours for the CME to detach itself from the Sun,
but once it does, it races away at speeds of up to 1,000 km (more than 7 million
miles per hour). The cloud of hot plasma and charged particles may be up to one
hundred billion kg in weight.” At the high point of the solar cycle there might be
five CMEs daily, and there is usually at least one daily [18].

There is a phenomenon called the Carrington Effect. It refers to the


electromagnetic consequences of CMEs for Earth:

Like solar flares, CMEs bring an increase in radiation to astronauts and


electronics in space. Yet unlike flares, they also bring charged particles
Space Weather Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 87

of matter that interact with the field surrounding our planet. When the
particles reach the Earth’s magnetic sphere, they stretch and distort,. The
sudden increase in power can damage sensitive electronic equipment.
Power transformers can overload, causing long-lasting blackouts. Long
metal structures, like oil and gas pipelines carry currents, which can
enhance their corrosion over time and lead to devastating effects if
proper safety measures are not in place. The resulting variations in the
ionosphere can disrupt GPS signals, giving misleading readings [19].

C. March 1989 CME


Beginning on March 6, 1989, sunspots covering a solar area of 43,000 square
miles, propagated Active Region 5395. For a two-week period, about 200 solar
flares were generated, a quarter of them quite large. And no less than thirty-six
CMEs were identified. Compass readings erred by several degrees causing
navigation problems. A military satellite was sent into a tumbling crash- dive, and
“other satellites were fried as well” [20].

Electrical generating equipment suffered the worst. In New Jersey a 500,000-volt


transformer was destroyed at a cost of $10 million. Six million people lost power
in the middle of the night during a cold Canadian winter evening [21].

6. SOLAR FLARES

CMEs have been likened to hurricanes, while solar flares were similarly
compared to tornadoes. The scale is different—solar flares are typically not as
substantial in size or consequences.

Darling (2004) described solar flares as dramatic releases of energy through the
Sun’s chromospheres in the vicinity of a sunspot. They can last for minutes or a
few hours and the largest solar flares spew a mass of ten billion tons at a speed of
1,500 km per second [22]. Prominent effects include magnetic storms and radio
interference. Although largely unpredictable, solar flares are tied to the eleven-
year solar cycle. Most solar flares occur at or about the solar sunspot maximum
[23]. Particles are blown out into space as are gamma rays in substantial quantity
[24].

“Earthweek: A Diary of the Planets,” is a weekly chronicle of environmental


stories carried by a considerable number of newspapers and newsrooms. A 2013
piece, “Solar Storms,” observed:
88 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

The sun produced four of its most powerful type of solar flares within a
four-day period, sparking concerns of problems for Earth. The severe
geomagnetic storms created by such intense solar disruptions can disrupt
satellite and high-frequency radio communications as well as power
grids. And beyond creating vivid aurora displays, they can also put
astronauts in orbit at risk of excessive radiation exposure [25]. Solar
flares seem to be connected to sunspots. Redd (2013) reported, “The high
magnetic fields in the sunspot-producing active regions also gives rise to
explosions known as solar flares.” This source added, “The largest X-
class flares, have the most significant effect on Earth. They can cause
long-lasting radiation storms in the upper atmosphere, and trigger radio
blackouts. When the energized particles exploding from solar flares race
toward us, they arrive in only eight minutes” [26].

7. SUNSPOTS

They look darker because they are cooler, about 4200 K compared to the average
5700 K temperature of the Sun’s photosphere (outer layer). They are sun spots,
associated with the creation of solar flares. Sunspots occur where the magnetic
field in the photosphere is thousands of times stronger than normal, thereby
inhibiting the upward flow of hot gas and resulting in a cooler area. They occur
individually frequently, but quite often they exist in pairs of opposite magnetic
polarity or even in large groups. Sunspots are usually approximately the size of
the Earth and last a week. Large groups include 100 or more sunspots and have a
duration of several months [27].

Sunspots “are cooler regions that cap some of the intense energy bodies below
them.” They usually cluster in one of two mid-latitude bands above and below the
equator. Their mean average temperature can be 2,000 K, and they can range in
size from 1,500 miles to 30,000 miles in diameter in size. The Zurich Observatory
has been keeping track of the number of sunspots since 1849, and it has been
joined in this task by the Solar Influence Data Analysis Center in Belgium and the
American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [28].

8. SPACE WEATHER IS LETHAL

Space is a lethal environment in several respects, and space weather is foremost


among the dangers. Humans are endangered by space weather in a variety ways,
and the same is true of machines in space and even on Earth. Blachowski (2007)
Space Weather Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 89

noted that, “Space storms produce the most penetrating radiation, which can
disrupt communications and cause power line transmission failures” [29].

In his article, “Home on the Moon,” Frank Sietzen (2007) observed, “In addition,
for the first time beyond Earth orbit, extended surface and lunar orbit operations
will require detailed monitoring of space weather that could affect the safety of
astronauts” [30]. Respected space journalist Leonard David offered this
perspective:

This is space weather. Our high-tech world can receive knockout


punches from the Sun just as it does from tornadoes, hurricanes and
rainstorms. Power grid outages can occur. Essential civilian and military
satellites, loaded with sensitive electronics, can be harmed by solar
blasts. Pilots and passengers flying in aircraft at high altitudes are at risk
of exposure to higher doses of radiation. This is also the case for space
travelers orbiting Earth in a shuttle or living on board the International
Space Station [31].

Navigation, communication and weather satellites can all be interfered with or


destroyed by adverse space climate. Communication between spacecraft and the
Earth may be disrupted. “Hazardous radiation levels” may be encountered [32]. An
Associated Press (2008) piece described “more powerful but less common
geomagnetic storms that can knock out satellites, harm astronauts in orbit and
disrupt power and communication on Earth, scientists say” [33]. The Daily Launch
(2008) reported that, “increased cosmic radiation,. could jeopardize manned
missions and shorten the lives of satellites” [34]. In May of 1998 a CME “destroyed”
the Galaxy 4 communications satellite, silencing 45 million pagers [35].

Redd (2013) noted, “Astronauts in space risk being hit by these hazardous
particles, and manned missions to the moon or Mars must take this danger into
account” [36].

9. SPACE WEATHER SHIELD

British researchers at the University of Strathclyde have invented a method of


protecting spacefarers from solar storms. The system houses two mini-
magnetospheres housed in two outrider satellites in front of the spacecraft. “They
have tested it in the laboratory,” it was reported, and discovered that, “it offers
almost total protection” [37].
90 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

10. SPACE WEATHER RADAR

Radar systems exist to provide the advance notice needed to switch on the shield
we just learned about. In fact, radar coverage does not appear to be deficient in
terms of space weather. We will consider several space weather radar systems.

A. Superdarn & Cutlass


In 2009 scientists at the University of Leicester “developed radars that allow
observations of space weather.” The so-called double pulse radar will be
incorporated into a world-wide network of ground-based coherent scatter radars
called SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network). In addition, this radar
will also be integrated into the Co-operative UK Twin Located Auroral Sounding
System (CUTLASS) radars [38].

B. Virginia Tech Antarctic Radar


In 2009 there was also progress in the extreme southern part of the planet. The
Virginia Technical University’s Space@VT program received a $2 million grant
from the National Science Foundation to construct a series of space weather
monitoring stations in Antarctica, which will be incorporated into the
SuperDARN network [39].

C. A Quartet of Other Warning Systems


A quartet of additional space weather radar systems might be mentioned. GOES,
the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, monitors the Earth and
Sun simultaneously, measuring the consequences of solar storms. SOHO, or the
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, uses a coronagraph to observe the Sun and
provide two to four days’ advance notice of solar- caused Earth or space dangers.
The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) monitors the solar wind for density
and magnetic polarity, and it renders space weather-specific forecasts. Finally,
Stereo used twin observational machines to ascertain information about CMEs
and solar flares [40].

11. THREE KINDS OF SOLAR STORMS

Thusfar we have discussed geomagnetic storms extensively. But there are in fact a
trio of different types of solar storms. Berman (2011) explained that there are
three types of solar storms. Initially, there are high-energy electromagnetic waves,
Space Weather Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 91

including ultraviolet light and x-rays. Then there are radiation storms. The third
and final type of solar storm is the geomagnetic storm [41].

12. CANADIAN BLACKOUT OF 1989

In early March of 1989 nine million people in Quebec, Canada, were affected by a
blackout for nine hours [42]. An enormous mass of solar particles raced toward the
Earth at a thousand miles per hour. When the storm struck it blew out Quebec’s
power grid at 2:44 AM after a one- hundred-ton capacitor failed at the Chibougamau
substation, leading to similar failures at the Abanel and Nemiskau stations before the
entire Hydro-Quebec Le Grande Hydroelectric Complex went off-line [43].

13. SPACE WEATHER PROGRAMS

“Various agencies around the world are engaged in routine monitoring of the Sun,
the solar wind and the terrestrial magnetosphere and attempt to predict which events
will have major impact on the Earth environment,” Moore (2002) claimed [44].

The Deccan Herald, an Indian newspaper, reported that “to keep us away from
such hazards, forecasting space weather is very important.” The article cited the
ESA, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and NASA for their
space weather programs, and noted a planned space weather mission on behalf of
the Indian Space Research Organisation [45]. The Canadian Geo-Space
Monitoring Programme is a partnership between Canadian universities, the
Canadian Space Agency, Natural Resources Canada and the National Research
Council. This program has developed the Next Generation Solar Flux Monitor
Project “to develop the next generation of solar radio monitoring instruments”
[46]. Perhaps the most important space weather monitoring program is the NASA
National Space Weather Program (NSWP) [47]. Aerospace America reported that,
“The NSWP is a federal government inter-agency initiative whose overall
objective is to speed improvement of space weather services in the U.S, to prepare
the country for dealing with technological vulnerabilities that can result from
conditions in space” [48].

14. SIGNIFICANCE OF SPACE WEATHER

This chapter emphasizes the significance of space weather. It is no overstatement


to suggest that space weather is as substantial a barrier to space development as
any other single space danger.
92 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

“The space environment around Earth, says the report’s opening passage, is
gaining ‘ever- increasing importance for the successful operation of commercial,
government, and national security infrastructure essential to the nation’,” Davis
reported [49]. The Daily Launch added a similar note, “Whether its showering
spacecraft with lethal radiation, filling the sky with ghostly light, or causing
electrical surges that black out entire cities, space weather is a force to be
reckoned with,” Cartwright observed [50].

A planned January 2014 replenishment mission to the ISS was delayed due to
space weather. This was the third try at delivering supplies and scientific
experiments to the ISS. Dunn (2014) reported, “The company’s unmanned rocket,
the Antares, was set to blast off from Wallops Island, Va., with a capsule-full of
supplies and science experiments. But several hours before Wednesday
afternoon’s planned flight, company officials took the unusual step of postponing
the launch for fear solar radiation could doom the rocket.” Antonio Elias, Orbital
Science’s chief technical officer, expressed concern that solar particles might
damage electronic equipment and cause a launch failure [51].

New Zealand researchers studied 11,000 cases of stroke in Europe, Australia and
New Zealand between 1981 and 2004. It was concluded that there was a 20%
increase of “sudden disruption of blood flow in the brain” during geomagnetic
storms [52]. Although most strokes occur to people in their 70s, “the connection
to geomagnetic storms was greater for people under 65” [53].

“What we were particularly surprised with was the size and consistency of the
effect of geomagnetic storms on the risk of stroke occurrence, suggesting that
geomagnetic storms are significant risk factors for stroke,” concluded Valery L.
Feigen [54].

15. SOLAR WINDS

The solar wind “is a constant stream of charged particles ejected by the sun” [55].
It serves the same function in space that wind does on the Earth. And it seems that
there is another type of wind in the universe:

A cloud of particles from deep space streaming past Earth in an


“interstellar wind” has significantly changed direction over the past 40
years, according to observations from eleven separate spacecraft. The
movement of the Earth and solar system through the Milky Way creates
an apparent wind that doesn’t have much of an effect on our planet.
Space Weather Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 93

Scientists had thought the wind’s direction would remain pretty constant
for millions of years given the vast distances of interstellar space. But
turbulence within the cloud, which is about 30-light years across, appears
to have shifted the wind direction by 6 degrees in only 40 years [56].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] J. Milton, E., Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of Astronomy. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2007, p. 319.
[2] Milton, Cambridge, p. 319.
[3] B. Berman, The Sun’s Heartbeat and Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet.
New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2011, p. 233.
[4] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Space Weather May be Influenced by
Stratosphere,” Daily Launch, October 7, 2009, p. 5.
[5] AIAA, “Space Weather,” p. 5.
[6] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zones of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 208.
[7] Associated Press, “Study: Magnetic Explosions Cause Northern Lights,” Albuquerque Journal, p. 2A,
July 25, 2008.
[8] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, pp. 237-8.
[9] Newman, S, “Solar Superstorms,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B6, November 20, 2011.
[10] N.T. Redd, “Space Weather: Sunspots, Solar Flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections,” Space.com. May
13, 2013. [Online]. Available: www.spacecom/11506-space-weather-sunspots-solar-flares-coronal-
mass-ejections.html. Accessed 15th Feb. 2014, p. 6.
[11] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, pp. 237-8.
[12] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, pp. 237-8.
[13] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, pp. 237-8.
[14] Milton, Cambridge, p. 73.
[15] Milton, Cambridge, p. 73.
[16] P. Plait, Death from the Skies. New York: Viking Books, 2008, p. 51.
[17] Newman, “Solar Superstorms,” p. B6.
[18] Redd, “Space Weather,” pp. 5-6.
[19] Redd, “Space Weather,” p. 19.
[20] Plait, Death, pp. 54-7.
[21] Plait, Death, pp. 54-7.
[22] Darling, Universal Book, p. 452.
[23] Plait, Death, p. 46.
[24] Plait, Death, p. 49.
[25] S. Newman, “Solar Storms,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B6, November 5, 2013.
[26] Redd, “Space Weather,” pp. 3-4.
[27] Milton, Cambridge, p. 334.
[28] Redd, “Space Weather,” pp. 2-3.
94 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[29] T.J. Blachowski, “Energetic Components,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 12, December 2007, p.
67.
[30] F. Sietzen, “Home on the Moon,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 7, July, 2007, p. 32.
[31] L. Davis, “Space Weather: Fury from the Sun,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 3, May, 2007, p. 31.
[32] P.E. Moore, Ed., Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 379.
[33] A.P., “Northern Lights,” p. 2A.
[34] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Continued Solar Inactivity Could Affect
Satellites, Manned Space Missions,” Daily Launch, October 2, 2008, p. 3.
[35] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, p. 234.
[36] Redd, “Space Weather,” p. 4.
[37] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Method Developed to Shield Astronauts from
Solar Storms,” Daily Launch, November 4, 2008, p. 2.
[38] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Researchers Develop New Radar Mode to
Track Space Weather,” Daily Launch, July 13, 2009, p. 5.
[39] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Researchers Will Help Build Arctic Radars to
Help Monitor Space Weather,” Daily Launch, August 26, 2009, p. 5.
[40] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, p. 244.
[41] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, p. 243.
[42] Moore, Oxford, p. 379.
[43] Berman, Sun’s Heartbeat, pp. 234-7.
[44] Moore, Oxford, p. 379.
[45] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Many Space Agencies Have Programs to Study
Space Weather,” Daily Launch, August 25, 2009, p. 3.
[46] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Canada Has ‘Multifaceted’ Approach Towards
Space Weather,” Daily Launch, August 26, 2009, p. 4.
[47] Davis, “Space Weather,” p. 31.
[48] Davis, “Space Weather,” p. 31.
[49] Davis, “Space Weather,” p. 31.
[50] Davis, “Space Weather,” p. 31.
[51] M. Dunn, “Solar Storm Delays Space Station Delivery,” Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p.
C8, January 4, 2104.
[52] S. Newman, “Solar Strokes,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B6, May 13, 2004.
[53] Newman, “Solar,” p. B6.
[54] Newman, “Solar,” p. B6.
[55] S. Newman, “Interstellar Wind Shift,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B5, September 27, 2013.
[56] Redd, “Space Weather,” p. 6.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 95-104 95

CHAPTER 10

Centaurs
Abstract: Centaurs, the topic of this chapter, were defined and described. Examples
were cited, including Chiron and Pholus. The number of centaurs was estimated, and
their origins were speculated upon. The unusually erratic orbit of centaurs was
documented. Potentially deleterious consequences of centaurs were identified; planetary
impacts and the generation of vast amounts of space debris. It was recognized that
centaurs are relatively little-studied astronomical phenomenon and that with experience
their erratic orbits can become better understood. Centaurs come in all sizes and many
are relatively large. It was estimated that one new centaur is created annually.

Keywords: Blanco and Mayall 4 m Telescope, centaurs, Cerro Tololo Inter-


American Observatory, Chiron, cubewanos, Deep Elliptic Survey, Edgewood-
Kuiper Belt, Huffington Post, irradiated mantle, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kitts
Peak Observatory, Neptune, perihelion, Pholus, outer planet, Saturn, scattered-
disk objects, spectral diversity, Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

1. INTRODUCTION

Centaurs are one of the most dangerous unknown astronomical phenomenon in


the universe. They have been conceptualized as having properties of both
asteroids and comets. This chapter introduces most of us to the concept of
centaurs. Their erratic orbits make them especially dangerous, as it is likely that
many of them will impact with planets. Space debris will be generated in the
process.

Some of the sources cited in the preparation of this chapter spelled centaur with a
capital C, while others preferred to use the lower-case. I myself prefer to use the
lower-case spelling, but I will keep the quotations as they were spelled and
written by their authors.

2. CENTAURS DEFINED

“The Centaurs are a set of solar system objects whose orbits are confined between
those of Jupiter and Neptune. Their planet-crossing orbits imply a short dynamical
lifetime. The current belief is that centaurs are objects scattered from the Kuiper
Belt that may eventually end up in the inner solar system, as short-period comets,”
Lu et al. (2000) concluded [1].

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
96 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

A. Definitions
Centaurs are minor planets with orbits between those of Jupiter and Neptune
(between 5 to 30 AU), also known as outer planet crossers [2]. Moore (2000)
defined centaurs as any member of the planet-crossing group in the outer
planetary region that is classified as an asteroid even though it is more likely a
large comet [3].

The Encyclopedia Britannica also defined centaurs, “Any of a population of small


bodies, similar to asteroids in size but to comets in composition, that revolve
around the sun in the outer solar system, mainly between the orbits of Jupiter and
Neptune” [4]. An online definition might also be considered, “Centaur planets are
the shape shifters of our Solar System, resembling comets in some ways and
asteroids in others” [5].

B. Centaur Classification Difficult


“Classification of Centaurs is often difficult,” Darling (2008) suggested, due to
the diversity in characteristics. “There is clearly a continuum of types,” Darling
added, referring to centaurs, comets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects, cubewanos
and scattered disk objects [6].

Classification difficulties have been recognized by others, as well. One source


noted, “Classifying centaur planets isn’t a precise science, because centaurs,
comets, asteroids, objects in the Kuiper Belt and the Scattered Disk form a
continuum, with some bodies having characteristics of more than one” [7].

C. Spectral Diversity
Spectral diversity is characteristic of centaurs. Lu et al. (2000) observed that, “As
a group, the Centaurs display remarkable spectral diversity.” Pholus, for instance,
“is among the reddest bodies in the universe” [8]. Other centaur hues include
slightly blue to neutral.

D. Water
Water is one of the rarest and most precious commodities in the universe. Imagine
the surprise when a scientific study of centaur composition concluded that they
are typically water-containing entities.

One study concluded that, “Chiron is the third Centaur in which water has been
detected. This trend suggests that water ice is common on the surface of Centaurs.
Centaurs Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 97

We predict that water ice is ubiquitous in all objects originating in the Kuiper
Belt” [9].

E. Cold
“The active Centaurs are too cold for their activity to be driven by the sublimation
of exposed water ice,” a UCLA-based analysis of centaurs concluded. Instead,
“The activity is triggered by the crystallization of amorphous water ice, which
requires temperatures found only inside and near the orbit of Saturn” [10].

F. Comet or Asteroid?
The most recurrent aspect of centaur analysis has been the question of whether
they are more similar to asteroids or comets. The NASA Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) noted, “The true identity of centaurs, the small celestial bodies
orbiting the Sun between Neptune and Jupiter, is one of the enduring mysteries of
astrophysics. Are they asteroids or comets?” [11]. The Huffington Post asked,
“What exactly are space centaurs,. asteroids or comets?” [12].

“Their composition is probably intermediate between that of comets and ordinary


asteroids,” Darling (2008) asserted [13]. Moore (2002) concurred, noting
elements of both asteroids and comets [14]. “Celestial centaurs therefore always
had some odd characteristics that fell into the comet and asteroid category” [15].
A recent scientific expedition has apparently resolved the issue. The JPL analyzed
“the findings from the largest infrared survey to date” [16]. The conclusion?
“These findings indicate that roughly two-thirds of the centaur population are
comets. It is not clear whether the rest are asteroids” [17].

3. EXAMPLES OF CENTAURS
A. Chiron
This is the largest centaur and was the first discovered, on November 1, 1977, by
the American astronomer Charles Kawal. The surface of this centaur is not like an
irradiated mantle, but “a layer of cometary debris” dominates the surface of the
centaur. The orbital period is 50.7 years [18].

B. Pholus
David Rabinowitz discovered Pholus on January 9, 1992 [19]. This centaur has a
distinctive reddish-hue and an apparent lack of cometary activity. “Pholus’
spectral properties are still dominated by the organic irradiated crust” [20].
98 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Pholus differs considerably from Chiron. While Pholus is a grayish color, “Pholus
is very red in fact, the reddest known object in the solar system.” And Chiron does
not develop a coma at its perihelion [21].

C. Nessus
The third discovered centaur, Nessus was also discovered by David Rabinowitz.
This identification occurred on April 25, 1993. Nessus has an orbital period of 12.58
years [22].
D. Asbolus
A fourth centaur might be briefly introduced. Asbolus was discovered by James
V. Scotti and Robert Jedicke at the Kitt Peaks Observatory on April 5, 1995. The
orbital period of Asbolus is 77.88 years and the diameter is 84 km [23].
4. QUANTIFICATION OF CENTAURS

How many centaurs are there in the universe and in our solar system? Are they a
relatively infrequent astronomical occurrence or a more common phenomenon? A
survey of about a half- dozen estimates and frequency counts will be entertained.
A. Number of Named Centaurs
There is a tendency among astronomers to christen their discoveries of comets,
asteroids and even centaurs with names. Fiorenza (2009) noted, “There are about
30 named Centaurs” [24].
B. Number of Centaurs at the Turn of the Century
We just considered the number of named centaurs. The number of centaurs with
names (thirty), is not too different from the 2001 total. Moore (2002) recorded the
fact that at the end of 2001, thirty-five centaurs were known to science [25].

C. New Discoveries by NEOWISE


NEOWISE stands for the NEO Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. This
advanced orbiting telescope technology was dispatched to observe centaurs.
During this analysis a total of fifty- two centaurs and scattered-disk objects was
surveyed. It was determined that fifteen of the centaurs were newly-found [26].

D. Brighthub Online Estimate


Brighthub is an online source. It suggested that there are 85 centaurs [27].
Centaurs Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 99

E. JPL Small Body Database Count


The JPL list of small bodies includes 183 centaurs [28].

F. Deep Elliptic Survey


The results of the Deep Elliptic Survey were reported by Elliot et al. (2005). The
survey combined images and data from the Blanco and Mayall 4 m telescopes at
the Cerro Tololo Inter- American Observatory and the Kitt Peak National
Observatory. “We report here the discoveries of 320 KBOs and Centaurs for the
period 2000 March through 2003 December” [29].

G. Minor Planet Center List


“The List of Centaurs and Scattered-Disk Objects” was a 2013 publication by the
Minor Planets Center. Approximately 358 space objects were included on this list [30].

H. Experimental Scientific Estimate


An experimental empirical analysis conducted by Horner, Evans and Bailey (2008)
focused on quantifying the number of centaurs. The study asserted that, “The total
number of Centaurs with diameters larger than 1 km is estimated as ~ 44,300” [31].

I. “Thousands More”
Another estimate might be considered at this point. “Since the discovery of the
second known representative, Pholus, in 1982, hundreds of centaur objects, or
centaurs, have been reported and astronomers have speculated that thousands
more might exist” [32]. Brighthub noted, “Astronomers suspect that there are
many smaller centaur planets to be discovered” [33].

5. CENTAUR ORIGINS

Where did centaurs originate? Moore (2002) suggested, “The origin of the
Centaurs is suspected to be as members of the Edgewood-Kuiper Belt” [34]. An
empirical analysis of centaurs offered this extended description:

It is possible for a centaur to work its way slowly inwards through the
outer solar system, leading to eventual capture by Jupiter and
disintegration as a short-period comet. It is also possible for centaurs to
drift outwards to join the Edgewood-Kuiper belt, to be ejected from the
Solar system in an encounter with one of the massive, outer planets, or
100 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

even to be captured by these planets into temporary satellite orbits. A


small number may even impact upon the planets [35].

A very different theory of centaur origins may be considered. Brighthub (2010)


asked and answered its own question, “Where do these fascinating objects come
from? There is some evidence that many of them come from an area known as the
Trojan Clouds. These are vast reservoirs of bodies that move in resonance with
our solar system’s giant planets, primarily Jupiter and Neptune” [36].

6. CENTAUR ORBITS

Erratic and unstable orbits are the primary reason why centaurs are considered a
substantial space risk. They are hurled from the Edgewood-Kuiper belt into the
inner solar system and then they encounter the gravity of the large outer planets.
The result is substantial perturbation, the topic of a later chapter.

“Centaurs and scattered-disk objects exist in very precarious orbits, having


migrated from the furthest-most reaches of the solar system, sandwiched between
the orbits of the massive outer planets. The planet’s domineering gravity will
eventually destabilize the centaurs, propelling them toward the Sun or ejecting
them from the solar system entirely,” according to O’Neill (2013) [37]. “The
dynamical instability” of centaurs was mentioned by Moore (2002), who
explained that “severe gravitational perturbations” will result from “close
approaches to one or another of the giant planets” [38].

“The orbits of the centaurs are dynamically unstable due to interactions with the
giant planets,” Darling suggested [39]. Some if not most centaurs interact with
multiple large planets, as Horner et al. (2008) explained, “This is a consequence
of the fact that Centaurs with large e must cross the orbit of several of the outer
planets, and so inevitably are more unstable than bodies whose close approaches
are restricted to just one or two planets” [40].

7. CENTAUR PLANETARY IMPACTS

The bottom line regarding centaurs can be put rather bluntly—they are likely to
smack into a planet. The planet will probably be one of the four massive outer
planets but that will not necessarily be the case.

Consider the example of Chiron. Darling (2008) suggested that since Chiron
“moves in a chaotic, planet-crossing orbit, it is likely in time to collide with a
planet” or be hurled out of the solar system forever [41].
Centaurs Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 101

Horner et al. (2008) realized that, “a small number may even impact upon the
planets” [42]. The study quantified the incidence of centaur planet strikes:

Finally, we can use the simulation data to estimate the impact rate on the
giant planets from Centaurs. In the forward integration, we find that 144
objects hit Jupiter, 53 hit Saturn, 5 hit Uranus and a further five hit Neptune.
In the backward integration, these numbers are 135, 48, 5 and 1 respectively.
Given that the estimated population of the Centaur region is ~ 44,300 then
we expect one impact upon Jupiter every ten kyr, one per 28 kyr on Saturn,
and one per 300 kyr on Uranus and Neptune. These numbers are likely to be
underestimates of the impact rate on the planets, given that the errors in
integration are at their largest when the clone is closest to a massive body
[43].
8. CENTAURS CAUSE SPACE DEBRIS

We are not out of danger if all of the centaurs miss the Earth, because they will
most likely leave part of themselves behind in the form of space debris.
According to one recent study, “Additionally, one fresh Earth-crossing object is
expected to arise from the Centaur region every ~ 880 yrs. This is both of interest
and concern, as large Centaurs entering the Solar system are likely to fragment
with production of much dangerous dust and debris” [44].
9. CENTAURS HAVE NOT BEEN STUDIED

“The dynamical behavior of the centaurs is still poorly understood,” according to


recent research. Horner et al. (2008) also noted that, “Despite the importance of
the Centaurs, there has been little systematic study of the population using
numerical simulations” [45].
Fortunately, it appears likely that as we garner more experience with and
understanding of centaurs, our knowledge base will increase substantially. “Over
time, as the centaurs are observed over longer arcs, the accuracy with which the
orbits are known increases” [46].

One basic deficiency in our knowledge of centaurs might be considered. “So far,
no official centaur has been photographed closely” [47].

10. RANGE OF CENTAUR SIZES

Centaurs come in all sizes. Unlike comets and asteroids, which are typically
relatively small, centaurs can be large space objects.
102 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

“Centaurs come in a wide range of sizes,” according to Horner et al. (2008),


“from very large (1995 SN 55 and Chiron) to those comparable in size with
normal comets (2000 GM 137)” [48]. And unlike most of the other minor planets,
like comets and asteroids, centaurs are frequently substantial in size. Horner et al.
(2008) discussed the consequences of centaur size:

Very few NEOs are larger than 10 km across. However, for the Centaurs,
the upper end of the size distribution is well-represented, with 16 objects
of the 32 listed in Table 2 intrinsically brighter than Ganymed. The
passage of a large Centaur like Chiron or Pholus into the inner Solar
system would provide a very significant environmental disturbance
(Hahn and Bailey, 1990), as its fragmentation and possible decay could
overwhelm the local space environment with debris and dust [49].

Online sources also have confirmed the diversity in centaur size. According to
Brighthub, “Those that have been measured range in size from tens to hundreds of
kilometers across, and they are expected to have lifetimes of a few million years” [50].

11. ONE NEW CENTAUR ANNUALLY

There are numerous centaurs in the Solar System and many more in the entire
universe. And the number appears to be on the rise.
Experimental research on centaurs suggests a startling fact. The universal forces
behind the production of centaurs results in the creation of one additional centaur
approximately once a year [51].
12. UNLIMITED SUPPLY OF NEW CENTAURS

Centaurs are part of nature. They are created by natural forces and they eventually
are destroyed by astronomical natural phenomenon. And it would seem that an
unlimited supply of centaurs is available in the universe.
The Encyclopedia Britannica noted, “This implies that the population of centaurs is
being continuously replenished from the Kuiper belt” [52]. Another source concurred,
“Computer simulations show that an ongoing supply of objects should be leaving the
Trojan Clouds, moving into orbits that would classify them as centaurs” [53].

13. CENTAURS ARE A MYSTERY

Scientists prefer a world of mutual exclusivity, where everything fits into only one
of the categories in any typology. The basic problem with centaurs may be that
Centaurs Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 103

such definite classification is difficult as we learned earlier in this chapter. The


result: a scientific mystery.

“One thing that is certain about centaurs is that they will continue to generate
much intriguing speculation and research as more are found and more clear
definitions are provided by the astronomical community” [54]. An online
reference work agreed and added that, “The odd objects, called centaurs, are small
celestial bodies in an unstable orbit around the sun, passing between Neptune and
Jupiter. The objects have been somewhat of a mystery to scientists since the first
one was spotted in 1920” [55]. One reason why centaurs might seem to be
mysterious is that they change significantly over their lifetime. They are in
essence transitional objects, “They are believed to be objects in transition, once
orbitally altered to come close enough to the sun, turn into comets during their
relatively short lifetimes” [56].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
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Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 105-115 105

CHAPTER 11

Supernovas
Abstract: Supernovas were described and explained in this chapter. The types and
subtypes of supernovas were noted. Supernovas cause a tremendous explosion at the
moment they are created. The quantitative significance of supernovas was discussed.
Supernovas produce particles and radiation, and create excessive temperatures.
Supernovas were exemplified, and the concept of SNRs (supernova remnant) was
introduced. It was observed that supernovas cause blast and shock waves, gamma ray
fireballs and the vaporization of space objects. The concept of pair-instability
supernovas was discussed. Pulsars are created by supernovas, it was suggested.

Keywords: Antielectron, charged particles, CalTech, Crab Nebula, Enyclopedia


Britannica, gamma ray fireballs, Gemini, Kepler’s star, Large Magellanic Cloud,
Las Companas Observatory, light curve, luminosity, neutrino, neutron star,
nuclear density, nuclear reaction, pair-instability radioactive isotopes, supernovas,
pulsar, vaporization.

1. INTRODUCTION

The supernova is a powerful astronomical phenomenon. Supernovas are


associated with such mass destructive phenomenon as particles, radiation,
vaporization, high temperatures, explosions and gamma ray fireballs. Because a
supernova is created by the death of a star, anyone and anything in the immediate
vicinity of the astronomical celestial transformation would cease to exist.

2. DEFINITION

Not everyone is familiar with supernovas. What are these astronomical


phenomenon with a superlative in the term, are they quantitatively significant, and
are they important to us on Earth? The short answers to these questions are as
follows; what happens when a star dies, somewhat and yes. Long-time California
Tech astronomer Fritz Zwicky coined the term, ‘supernovae’ [1]. He also holds
the record for most supernovas discovered [2]. A supernova is the collapse of a
massive star, “followed by the bounce of nuclear densities and the ensuing shock
wave.” The supernova typically transforms eventually into a black hole or a
neutron star [3].

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
106 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

3. SUPERNOVA TYPES AND SUBTYPES

There have been and are numerous supernovas, enough to facilitate creation of a
typology and sub-typology of the kinds of these phenomenon. Both will be
discussed in this section.

A. Types of Supernovas
There are two varieties of supernova, Type I and Type II. The Type I supernova
category occur in binary systems, where one star pulls mass from the other, and
the Type II supernova result from the explosions of massive stars that have
reached the end of their lifetime [4]. Type I supernovas result from one of two
binary stars stealing mass away from the other, until the diminishing star reaches
the point of no return. Type II supernovas are generally much more powerful, but
appear dimmer [5]. Type I supernovas lack hydrogen, unlike their Type II
counterparts [6].

B. Sub-Types of Supernovas
There is a subcategorization of supernovas. Darling (2008) described the
supernova subtypes. Within Type I, there are Type Ia, Ib, and Ic, which are
differentiated on the basis of the details of their spectra [7]. King (2014) observed,
“Type IA, a dry term describing one of the most catastrophic events in the
universe” [8].

Type II supernovas come in two varieties, Type II-L and II-P. Type II-L
supernovas manifest linear light curves, while the Type II-P variety have light
curves that plateau after awhile [9].

4. MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS

“A supernova is the explosion of a star. In an instant, a star with many times the
mass of our own Sun can detonate with the energy of a billion stars. Some
explode into a spray of gas and dust, while others become exotic objects like
neutron stars or black holes” [10]. NASA contended in a 2011 document that,
“Supernovae are one of the most energetic explosions in nature, equivalent to the
power in a 1028 megaton bomb” [11].

In one-hundredth of a second, the outer core of a dying star smashes into the inner
core, generating a tremendous shock wave, followed by a ten-second neutrino
blast about 250 times as powerful as the preceding material explosion [12].

 
Supernovas Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 107

“Supernovas are exploding stars. They represent the very final stages of evolution
for some stars,” according to an online document, “What are Supernova?” [13].
The source added that, “Supernovae, as celestial events, are huge releases of
tremendous energy, as the star ceases to exist, with about 1020 times as much
energy produced in the supernova explosion as our Sun releases every second”
[14].

The Encyclopedia Brittanica was consulted on this issue. It defined supernovas as


“any of a class of violently exploding stars whose luminosity after eruption
suddenly increases many millions of times its normal level” [15]. It added, “When
a star goes supernova, considerable amounts of its matter, equaling the material of
several Suns, may be blasted into space with such a burst of energy as to enable
the exploding star to outshine its entire home galaxy” [16].

NASA sources confirmed these media and expert reports and opinions. A 2003
publication entitled, “Supernova,” provided information about the relative
significance of supernova combustion processes. It noted, “One of the most
energetic explosive events known is a supernova” [17]. “If the star is particularly
massive then its core will collapse and in doing so will release a huge amount of
energy” [18].

We might consider a final perspective on the explosion associated with the birth
of a supernova. It seems that this explosion can actually transform electrons and
protons into neutrinos. Redd (2013) asserted, “When stars four to eight times
more massive than the Sun explode in a violent supernova, their outer layers can
blow off in an often spectacular display, leaving behind a small dense core that
continues to collapse. Gravity presses the material in on itself so tightly that
protons and electrons combine to make neutrinos” [19].

5. LARGE-SCALE DESTRUCTION

“Clearly, supernovae are awesome events capable of wreaking destruction on a


vast scale. In fact, the Earth has had close shaves with exploding stars in the past,
and there will certainly be more in the future,” according to Plait (2008) [20]. He
added that, “Any planet orbiting a nascent supernova is a goner—having your
primary star explode in a billion-degree conflagration can end in only one way,
and it’s not pretty. The planets will be torched, sterilized, and any air and water
stripped away by the sheer energy of the explosion” [21]. Plait concluded with
this potential understatement—“Clearly, supernovae are dangerous” [22].

 
108 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

6. QUANTITATIVE SIGNIFICANCE OF SUPERNOVAS

How many supernovas are there? Is this a common astronomical phenomenon or


a relative rarity in space? A survey of about a half-dozen estimates and counts of
the number of supernovas will be shared at this point.

We can consider a pair of verbal indications of the relative frequency of


supernovas. “Important as they are, few supernovae have been observed nearby,”
Darling (2008) suggested [23]. Berkowitz (2012) concurred, noting that,
“Supernovas, the deaths of giant stars, are relatively rare” [24].

One study sought to identify and locate supernovas. Adams and Loughlin (1999)
observed that approximately three stars out of 1,000 have sufficient energy to
“explode as a supernova” [25]. Plait (2008) claimed that supernovas occur about
once per century in any particular galaxy [26].

Other estimates seem to indicate a much more common phenomenon than the
preceding suggestions. Thompson (2009) asserted, “On average, a supernova will
occur once every 50 years in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way. Put another way,
a star explodes every second or so somewhere in the universe” [27].

A final perspective might be considered, one provided by Ferris (1997), “On


average, three stars explode every century in an average galaxy, which means that
the supernova rate in the observable universe is one per second” [28]. In a most
precise quantification, an online contribution from the California Institute of
Technology (CalTech) suggested that as of January 1, 1998, 1,270 supernovas had
been discovered since initial efforts to quantify them began in 1885 [29].

7. SUPERNOVAS EMIT PARTICLES

It was documented in the chapter on radiation that particles can be very dangerous
to humans and their space machines. One analysis of supernovas claimed that,
“Supernovas also likely throw small atomic and subatomic particles out into the
galaxy” [30].

8. SUPERNOVAS PRODUCE RADIATION

“Supernova explosions release not only radio waves and x-rays but also cosmic
rays. Some gamma ray bursts have been associated with supernovas,” according
to the Encyclopedia Britannica [31]. Ferris (1997) noted that neutrinos are

 
Supernovas Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 109

released in a sudden and massive burst by supernovas [32]. He added, “The debris
blasted into space by a supernova is rich in radioactive isotopes” [33].

Radiation is produced when supernovas are born [34]. According to Redd,


“Neutron stars are created when giant stars die in supernovas and their cores
collapse, with the protons and electrons essentially melting into each other to form
neutrinos” [35].

9. SUPERNOVAS CAUSE HIGH TEMPERATURES

Thermal energy is a concern in space, given the extreme high and low
temperatures associated with the vast emptiness of the universe. And supernovas
are known to generate extremely high temperatures as the star dies and the
supernova is born.

“The amount of heat and pressure released from a supernova explosion” was
mentioned by Darling (2008) [36]. Berkowitz (2012) concluded that as a star
collapsed and died the extreme high temperatures would skyrocket, “sparking a
flurry of nuclear reactions” [37].

Plait (2008) described the generation of intense heat, “Radioactive versions of


elements like cobalt, aluminum and titanium are created in the expanding debris,
and they emit gamma rays when they decay. The gas, already hellishly hot,
absorbs this energy and becomes even hotter, heated to millions of degrees” [38].
Darling (2008) noted that the kinetic temperature of supernova material “initially
exceeds 106 K” [39]. Famed astronomer Fred Hoyle “calculated that as a dying
star collapsed and exploded as a supernova, it’s temperature would skyrocket,
sparking a flurry of nuclear reactions” [40].

10. EXAMPLES OF SUPERNOVAS

We might examine several supernovas, to get a more tangible idea of precisely


what is meant by the term. Accordingly we will discuss two historic instances, the
Supernova of 1054 and the equally-famous Supernova of 1604, and the case of
SN 1987A. A couple of relatively recent examples will also be considered.

A. The Supernova of 1054


This supernova was truly an international sensation. It was sighted and discussed
extensively in China, Korea, Japan, the Middle East and Europe. It is believed to

 
110 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

be represented in North American native art as well. Edwin Hubble postulated


that this supernova was responsible for the Crab Nebula [41].

B. The Supernova of 1604


The supernova of 1604 is also known as Kepler’s star, although Johannes Kepler
was probably not the first man to observe it. His accounts and those of Tycho
Brahe inspired and informed future writers such as Richard Corbet, Henry Moore,
John Donne, Edmund Spenser and John Dryden [42].

C. SN 1987A
A relatively recent supernova was documented on February 24, 1987, by a
Canadian astronomer named Ian K. Shelton working at the Las Companas
Observatory in Chile [43]. The supernova was initially quite dim but quickly
increased in brightness to a magnitude of 4.5. It was located in the Large
Magellanic Cloud, approximately 160,000 light years from the Earth.

D. SN 2014J
The most recent supernova to my knowledge was initially identified on January
21, 2014. The official designation for the latest supernova is SN 2014J [44]. It
was the tenth exploding star of the year, in an area of space, M81, that hosted the
last local supernova in 2008 [45].

Plait (2014) described M82 and its role in supernova formation:

The galaxy is an odd one. It’s classified as an irregular, literally a galaxy


with an irregular shape. You can see the reddish material that looks like a
shredded balloon or debris from explosions; that’s actually huge amounts
of gas and dust being blown out from the galaxy by the fierce wind of
newborn stars. M82 is undergoing a vast wave of new star formation, and
their combined power is blasting material right out of the galaxy itself
[46].

King (2014) also discussed SN 2014J. On January 22, 2014, he stated that, “The
new object was discovered last night by S.J. Fossey [47]. Information pertaining
to the astronomical finding was initially published in the Central Bureau for
Astronomical Telegrams, “Transient Objects Confirmation Page” [48]. King

 
Supernovas Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 111

(2014) added that SN 2014J is twelve million light years away, making it “the
brightest, closest supernova since SN 1993J kaboomed in a neighboring galaxy
(M82) years ago in 1993” [49].

There are close astronomical relationships between galaxies and star clusters.
King (2014) realized, “M81 and M82, along with NGC 3077, form a close-knit
interacting group” [50].

The new supernova is conveniently located for terrestrial viewing. King (2014)
observed that the new supernova “is bright enough for small telescope users to
see. And it’s in a bright galaxy, Ursa Major, well-placed for viewing during
evening hours in the northern hemisphere” [51].

E. Cassiopeia A
“Cassiopeia A was a star more than eight times the mass of our sun before it
exploded in the cataclysmic, fiery death astronomers call a supernova,” a CNN
story reported [52]. Landau (2014) added, “Cassiopeia A, a well-studied celestial
object, is about 11,000 light years away. That means, technically, that it exploded
more than 11,000 years ago.” The Hubble Space Telescope “examined the
supernova’s optical light,” and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory “looked at its
low-energy x-rays” [53].

11. SUPERNOVAS CAUSE BLAST & SHOCK WAVES

Sonic booms emanate from a supernova. The gradually-expanding stellar debris


expands and creates a shock wave that moves ahead of the actual debris. An
online NASA source contended, “This forward shock wave produces sudden,
large changes in pressure and temperature behind the shock wave” [54]. “The
forward shock wave also accelerates electrons and other charged particles to
extremely high energies” [55]. Berkowitz (2012) also recognized the tendency of
supernovas to generate shock and blast waves [56].

12. SNRS

Supernova remnants are better known in astronomy circles by the acronym SNR.
They might best be described as “an expanding diffuse nebula” of gas, dust and
interstellar medium material hurled from the supernova at speeds of 10,000 km/s
[57]. A shock wave preceeds them, and they generate a tremendous amount of x-
rays and radio waves [58].

 
112 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

13. PAIR-INSTABILITY SUPERNOVAS

There is a theoretical supernova possibility referred to as pair-instability


supernovas. For very massive stars, “an even more violent type of supernova is
possible” [59]. If stellar temperatures rise to several billion degrees:

Nuclear reactions are reversed, and energy is converted into mass in the
form of pairs of electrons and antielectrons, or positrons. The production
of electron-positron pairs saps energy from the core of the star, disturbing
the equilibrium between the outward push of pressure and the inward
crush of gravity. This so-called pair instability causes violent pulsations
that eject a large fraction of the outer layers of a star, and eventually
disrupts the star completely in a thermonuclear explosion [60]. This
online source concluded that a pair-instability supernova event would be
“the most energetic thermonuclear explosion in the universe” [61].

14. SUPERNOVAS PRODUCE GAMMA RAY FIREBALLS

A NASA analysis of gamma rays and the link to supernovas arrived at a definitive
conclusion. It was decided that, “The collapsed core forms a spinning black hole.
As surrounding material falls toward this black hole, intense beams of high-
energy particles and neutrinos eject matter at nearly the speed of light. It is this
matter that produces the gamma ray fireball” [62].

15. SUPERNOVAS CAUSE VAPORIZATION

Vaporization is a relatively extreme force of nature. It occurs infrequently and is


not a normal part of terrestrial life. If you were in the vicinity of a supernova as it
is transforming from a dying giant star, the implications would be serious.
Berkowtz (2012) asserted that anyone anywhere near a supernova would be—
“obliterated—vaporized by supernova shock waves” [63].

16. SUPERNOVAS PRODUCE PULSARS

Pulsars can be created by supernovas. Two scientists at the NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center, Neil Gehrels and Wan Chen, “proposed that a runaway pulsar in
Gemini came from the supernova responsible” [64]. This pulsar is a rapidly
spinning neutron star that is ten miles in diameter, has the power of the Sun, and
moves one hundred times faster than a rifle bullet [65]. This pulsar originated

 
Supernovas Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 113

about 300,000 years ago, and it has travelled approximately 1,000 light years
since then [66]. This pulsar is known as Geminga [67].

Pulsars are not insignificant space objects, in quantitative or qualitative terms.


Redd (2013) reported, “By 2010, approximately 1,800 pulsars had been identified
through radio detection with another 70 found by gamma rays” [68].

17. NUSTAR

NuStar exemplifies the trend towards more sophisticated and scientifically


capable astronomical instruments. The acronym stands for Nuclear Spectroscope
Telescope Array. CNN described the special utility of the NuStar technology,
“The NuStar space telescope array is the first to map the radioactive material from
a supernova explosion” [69].

18. NO SUPERNOVA PROCESS MODEL

Supernovas are relatively unknown space entities, despite a few notable


exceptions like Cassiopeia A. There remain significant gaps in our understanding
of these potentially dramatic and traumatic astronomical phenomenon. Landau
(2014) conceded that, “There’s currently no solid model for how the supernova
explosion process works” [70].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
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[4] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
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[8] B. King, “Bright New Supernova Blows Up in Nearby M82, the Cigar Galaxy,” Universe Today,
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EBchecked/topic/574464/supernova. Accessed 15th Jan. 2014 p. 1.
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[22] Plait, Death, p. 72.
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[24] J. Berkowitz, The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars. Amherst, New
York: Prometheus Books, 2012, p. 155.
[25] Adams and Laughlin, Five Ages, p. 123.
[26] Adams and Laughlin, Five Ages, p. 301.
[27] A. Thompson, “What is a Supernova?” Space.com., May 4, 2009. [Online]. Available:
www.space.com/6638-supernova.html. Accessed 15 Jan. 2014, p. 2.
[28] Ferris, Shebang, p. 7.
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[30] “What are Supernova,” p. 4.
[31] Encyclopedia Britannica, “Supernova,” p. 1.
[32] Ferris, Shebang, p. 139.
[33] Cain, “Supernova,” p. 2.
[34] Redd, “Neutron Stars,” p. 1.
[35] Redd, “Neutron Stars,” p. 1.
[36] Darling, Universal Book, p. 397.
[37] Berkowitz, Stardust Revolution, p. 92.
[38] Plait, Death, p. 82.
[39] Darling, Universal Book, p. 396.
[40] Berkowitz, Stardust Revolution, p. 92.
[41] Darling, Universal Book, p. 396.
[42] Darling, Universal Book, p. 396.
[43] Encyclopedia Britannica, “Supernova,” pp. 1-2.
[44] P. Plait, “Supernova!” Slate, January 23, 2014. [Online]. Available: www.slate.com/blogs/
bad_astronomy/2014/01/13/supernova_adam.block_photo_of_the_exploding_star_in_m82.html.
Accessed 25th Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[45] Plait, “Supernova!” p. 1.
[46] Plait, “Supernova!” p. 1.
[47] King, “Cigar Galaxy,” p. 1.
[48] King, “Cigar Galaxy,” p. 1.
[49] King, “Cigar Galaxy,” p. 1.

 
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[50] King, “Cigar Galaxy,” p. 1.


[51] King, “Cigar Galaxy,” p. 1.
[52] E. Landau, “Supernova Secrets Seen in X-Rays,” CNN, February 19, 2014. [Online]. Available:
www.cnn.com/2014/02/19/tech/innovation/supernova-explosion-science/. Accessed 25th Feb. 2014, p.
1.
[53] Landau, “Supernova Secrets,” p. 1.
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[Online]. Available: http://www.imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov./docs/science/know_12/supernovae.html.
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[56] Berkowitz, Stardust Revolution, p. 216.
[57] Darling, Universal Book, pp. 476-7.
[58] Darling, Universal Book, pp. 476-7.
[59] Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Supernova and Supernova Remnants,” May 6, 2003.
[Online]. Available: http://www.chandra.harvard.edu/xray_sources/supernovas.html. Accessed 15th
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[60] Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Supernova Remnants,” p. 2.
[61] Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Gamma Ray Bursts,” p. 1.
[62] Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Gamma Ray Bursts,” pp. 1-2.
[63] Berkowitz, Stardust Revolution, p. 216.
[64] Ferris, Shebang, p. 190.
[65] Ferris, Shebang, p. 190.
[66] Ferris, Shebang, p. 190.
[67] Ferris, Shebang, p. 190.
[68] Redd, “Neutron Stars,” p. 1.
[69] Landau, “Supernova Secrets,” p. 1.
[70] Landau, “Supernova Secrets,” p. 1.

 
116 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 116-126

CHAPTER 12

Superbubbles
Abstract: Superbubbles were defined and explained in this chapter. Examples were
given, including Cygnus OB 1, the Aquila supershell, the Monogem Ring, NGC 1929
and Orion-Eridanus. It was documented that superbubbles generate and disseminate
radiation. Explosions were also associated with superbubbles. Superbubbles produce
both termination shock and secondary shocks. Plasma waves are created by
superbubbles, it was demonstrated. The inherently turbulent and chaotic inner nature of
superbubbles was documented.

Keywords: Absorption clouds, Aquila supershell, Chandra X-Ray Observatory,


Cygnus OB 1, Fermi Large Area Telescope, equipartition, filaments, Magellanic
Cloud, MHD, Monogem Ring, Max-Planck-ESA Telescope, NASA Spitzer Space
Telescope, National Institute of Nuclear Physics, NGC 1929, Orion-Eridanus,
Padova University, plasma, superbubbles, termination shock, Wolf-Rayet stage.

1. INTRODUCTION

Superbubbles are astronomical phenomenon of considerable celestial significance.


And they are also relatively unknown compared to more publicized space objects
like asteroids and meteors and black holes. It might be advantageous for us to
attain a deeper understanding of these space entities, in light of their intrinsic
characteristics and potential for endangering those in their path.

In this chapter superbubbles will be defined and exemplified. The role of


superbubbles in disseminating radiation, accelerating and spreading particles,
causing explosions, creating plasma waves, and generating termination and shock
waves will be documented.

2. DEFINITION & EXPLANATION OF SUPERBUBBLES


A. Definition
We will consider about a half-dozen sets of definitions and explanations of the
superbubble, because of the complexity of this astronomical entity and to
maximize the chances of successfully conveying the essence of this subject.

Large, type-O and B stars, tend to cluster together in the universe. Penn State
astrophysicist David Burrows (1997) explained, “An enormous amount of energy

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Superbubbles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 117

is dumped into the interstellar medium by such a cluster of stars during their
lifetimes, with the result that the gas is pushed away from the association and a
large cavity filled with very tenuous hot gas is left behind. This cavity can be
hundreds or even thousands of light-years across. If the gas inside it is hot enough
(several million degrees Celsius) it emits x-rays” [1].

Superbubbles are commonly associated with one or more supernova explosions.


Science Daily reported, “The winds and supernova shock waves carve out huge
cavities called superbubbles in the surrounding gas” [2]. According to a
Space.com essay, “Exploding stars carve out gas cavities called superbubbles” [3].
Superbubbles are formed when massive stars reach the end of their lives,
exploding in powerful bursts called supernovas that send out shock waves
throughout space. These shock waves and winds push gas outward to carve out
huge cavities in space” [4].

The definition offered by Darling (2008) is perhaps representative of the typical


astronomical understanding of superbubbles. He described them as large cavities
created by multiple supernova explosions in the same region of the interstellar
medium, usually members of the same OB association [5]. European Space
Agency Space Science Department member Adeline Caulet defined superbubbles
in these terms, “Superbubbles are gigantic bubbles blown in galaxies by the action
of very powerful phenomenon (stellar winds and multiple supernova explosions in
stellar associations, collisions of clouds with galactic disks)” [6].

Zaninetti (2003) suggested a substantially similar understanding of the concept of


the superbubble. “The galactic supershells are cavities in the interstellar medium.
These shells can be explained by introducing the concept of superbubbles, the
theoretical result of multiple supernova” [7]. He added, “Theoretical objects named
bubbles or superbubbles, are created by mechanical energy input from stars” [8].

“Observations indicate that the most massive stars in the galaxy occur in groups,
or OB associations, where their strong wind activity generates large structures
called superbubbles, inside which the subsequent supernovae (SNe) explode, with
a tight time and space correlation,” according to Parizot et al. (2004) [9]. Milton
(2007) suggested that superbubbles are substantially-sized, expanding bubbles of
luminous interstellar gas created by stellar winds emanating from hot stars and
supernova explosions [10].

Chu (2008) offered a relatively concise definition of a superbubble,


“Superbubbles are blown by fast stellar winds and supernova explosions from

 
118 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

groups of stars” [11]. A more lengthy and involved explanation was provided by
Plait (2008), “They blast out fierce winds of subatomic particles, like the solar
wind but far stronger. These winds expand out from the stars, combining their
forces and screaming into space at hundreds of kilometers per second.
Surrounding the stars is the gas left over from their own formation, and as those
winds expand outward they sweep up material around them, blowing this
ridiculously big superbubble” [12].

B. Compared to Supernovas
Sometimes the best way to understand something is to compare it to something
else. Especially if the comparative object is known to those attempting to
communicate information about the unknown item. This may be true of
superbubbles, as well.

Burrows (1997) compared and contrasted supernovas and superbubbles:


Like supernova remnants, superbubbles are produced as large hot stars
interact with the surrounding interstellar medium. Where a supernova
remnant is produced by the explosion of a single star, a superbubble is
produced by the combined stellar winds and supernova explosions of an
entire association containing dozens of stars in a relatively small region
of space [13].

An online source also interpreted the difference between supernovas and


superbubbles, “A superbubble is a large collection of superheated gases formed
when numerous stars in a related system die together. Instead of creating a single
supernova, the stars generate an explosion of energy and stellar winds that can
create a structure hundreds of light-years in diameter” [14].

C. Playpen for Cosmic Rays


Space scientists have been assessing gamma rays emanating from the Cygnus
constellation. The NASA Fermi Large Area Telescope (Fermi-LAT) obtained
data indicating that, “the bubble serves as a play-pen for young cosmic rays” [15].

3. EXAMPLES

A surprisingly large number of superbubbles can be considered, since this is only


a theoretical construct. In fact, about a half-dozen superbubbles will be discussed
in this section.

 
Superbubbles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 119

A. Star Cluster NGC 1929


A trio of sophisticated space observation devices were deployed in an effort to
better understand and document this superbubble. The Chandra X-Ray
Observatory, the NASA Spizter Space Telescope, and the Max-Planck-ESA
telescope all probed this nebula, the forty-fourth identified in the Magellanic
Clouds [16].

A published account in ScienceNews.com. reported:

Many new stars, some of them very massive, are forming in the star
cluster NGC 1929. The massive stars produce intense radiation, expel
matter at high speeds and race through their evolution to explode as
supernovae. The winds and supernova shock waves carve out huge
cavities called superbubbles in the surrounding gas. The Chandra data
reveal hot regions created by these winds and shocks [17].

B. Orion-Eridanus
The next superbubble we will examine is the Orion-Eridanus superbubble. “This is a
large cavity in the interstellar medium created by stellar winds from the Orion
association and possibly reheated by supernova explosions from this same
association” [18]. On the Rontgen satellite (ROSAT) satellite x-ray imagery map, this
superbubble is the bright (green/red/white) object near the center of the map [19].

C. Cygnus OB 1, Aquila Supershell & Monogem Ring


It is possible to identify by name a trio of other superbubbles. Darling (2008)
referred to “other prominent superbubbles in the Milky Way,” such as the Cygnus
OB 1 association, the Aquila supershell and the Monogem Ring [20].

Grossman (2014) described the use of the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope to
observe Cygnus OB 1, “The team turned the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope
towards Cygnus X. High speed winds from massive stars in the nebula have
sculpted their surroundings into a set of interlocking cavities called a superbubble,
more than 100 light years across” [21].

4. RADIATION

Radiation is associated with superbubbles in a number of ways. Much radiation is


contained within them and is unable to emerge. But a substantial amount of

 
120 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

radiation is radiated into the universe. We will consider four sets of radioactive
consequences of superbubbles.

A. Gamma Rays
“The new research provides good evidence that one such gamma ray source—the
active star- forming region Cygnus X—is probably a significant origin of cosmic
rays,” according to Today’s Science [22]. Substantially-sized cavities of low
density gas were carved out of Cygnus X by “ionization, radiation pressure, and
coalescing stellar winds” [23].

Bob Binns is a Washington University astronomer who was asked about the use
of the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope for superbubble research. “It’s the first
credible claim of the detection of high-energy gamma ray emissions from
superbubbles,” Binns remarked [24].

B. X-Rays
The Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics issued an online
document in 1997, “X-Ray Superbubbles.” This material contained the claim that
gas at sufficient temperature would emit x-rays [25].

C. Cosmic Rays & Gamma Rays


One recent publication reported that both cosmic rays and gamma rays are produced
and spread throughout the universe by superbubbles. Space.com. contended that,
“Now scientists may have pinpointed cosmic rays coming from clusters of young,
massive stars pinching into the surrounding molecular clouds of gas and dust” [26].
The NASA Fermi Large Area Telescope, an innovative astronomical technology,
“detected a wide range of gamma rays” headed to the Milky Way from a galaxy
located 160 light-years wide. The cluster contains at least 500 stars, each ten times
more powerful than the Sun. Luigi Tabaldo, a Padova University experimental
physicist affiliated with Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics, observed that,
“For the first time, we have caught a glimpse of the early life of cosmic rays in these
regions of massive star formation” [27].

D. Cosmic Rays
“We have shown above that SNRs in a SB environment should lead to a very
efficient conversion of the explosion energy into cosmic rays, because of an
increased injection efficiency and also because the shock never becomes radiative

 
Superbubbles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 121

and thus a significant fraction of the explosive kinetic energy can be converted
into turbulence and MHD (magnetohydrodynamic) waves inside the SB,” an
experimental study concluded [28].

Grossman recalled the mysterious nature of cosmic rays, “Cosmic rays have
puzzled astronomers since they were first discovered nearly a century ago. Most
are protons and other atomic nuclei. They bombard our planet from all directions,
travelling at close to the speed of light” [29].

“Superbubbles also explain the steady source of cosmic rays that make much of
space very hostile to living organisms,” according to WiseGEEK [30]. This source
added that, “Researchers spent over a century mystified by the origins of so-called
cosmic rays of electrically-charged particles that appeared to be everywhere in the
universe. Using telescopes that look for emissions in the gamma and x-ray range,
researchers finally determined where the cosmic rays were coming from:
superbubbles scattered among the universe” [31].

5. SUPERBUBBLES ACCELERATE & DISSEMINATE PARTICLES

Superbubbles also disseminate particles throughout space. Parizot et al. (2004)


reported the results of their experimental simulation of superbubbles, “In other words,
not only do the Galactic SNe occur most often inside superbubbles, but they should
also be more efficient in accelerating particles there than in the rest of the ISM” [32].

6. SUPERBUBBLES CAUSE EXPLOSIONS

The interior of a superbubble is a turbulent, hot, maelstrom-like zone with


excessive winds and the general appearance of a celestial whirlpool. It should
therefore not be surprising to learn of the explosive potential of superbubbles.

“Occasional stellar explosions” were reported by McAlpine (2001) amidst the


“expanding edges of the bubble, colliding stellar winds” which coalesce to “create
shockwaves that run through the superbubble” [33].

Related research by Zaninetti (2004) corroborated McAlpine. “The expansion of a


superbubble in the ISM (interstellar medium) belonging to our galaxy can be
simulated by applying Newton’s second law to different pyramidal sectors. The
network of many explosions that originate from the galactic plane could be
tentatively simulated” [34].

 
122 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

7. SUPERBUBBLES’ EXTREME HEAT

Excessive heat is one of the primary characteristics of a superbubble. A survey of


several sources reveals that high heat is a hallmark of these astronomical entities.

“Early-type stars blow bubbles in the interstellar medium,” according to Castor,


McCray and Weaver (1975). They continued, “Typical conditions in their
interiors are T = 106 K” [35]. “The massive stars burn so hot that they heat up the
gas around them,” another source explained [36].

Caulet of the European Space Agency concurred. She observed, “High


temperatures above 104 K are expected inside the superbubble cavity, associated
with conduction fronts and coronal gas” [37]. Parizot et al. (2004) further
discussed the thermal properties of the superbubble, “Once the superbubble is
formed by the merging of the wind bubbles, its interior consists of a hot, low-
density medium (apart from the above-mentioned clumps), where the shocked
wind material of all the stars match together subsonically” [38].

8. SUPERBUBBLES CAUSE TERMINATION SHOCK

Under some stellar circumstances there are winds blowing in contrasting or even
opposing directions. The stronger wind will extinguish or terminate the weaker
wind. “Closer to the stars, however, is a region of unshocked wind material
blowing roughly spherically at supersonic velocities, producing a strong wind
termination shock” [39].

9. SUPERBUBBLES CAUSE SECONDARY SHOCKS

Not only are there primary termination shocks but there can be substantial
secondary shocks as well. Parizon et al. (2004) observed:

The medium around OB stars in a superbubble should be inhomogenous


and contain numerous high density clumps and filaments, inherited from
the SB formation process as well as due to previous wind-wind and
shock-clumps interactions. Since the strong wind termination shocks are
found to occupy a significant fraction of the SB cores, it is also expected
that most of these clumps will be encountered by the supersonic winds,
leading to numerous secondary shocks, as well as MHD waves [40].

 
Superbubbles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 123

10. SUPERBUBBLES CAUSE PLASMA WAVES

Plasma waves can be generated by superbubbles. When convergent winds


terminate each other under low pressure conditions, strong turbulence is created.
Since this material is already ionized, the result is that “plasma waves should also
rapidly develop and produce a magnetic turbulence with values of the magnetic
field close to the equipartition value” [41].

11. SUPERBUBBLES ARE TURBULENT

The term superbubble might be a bit misleading. McAlpine (2011) realized that,
“although a bubble sounds like a serene, floating thing,” the truth is far from what
the name implies [42]. Instead, “the environment is more akin to the turbulence of
a whirlpool.” The interior of a superbubble includes extreme heat, various types
of shock waves, hurricane-strength winds and turbulence [43].

Change characterizes the interior of a superbubble. This is a dynamic not a static


astronomical phenomenon. There are marked alterations in gas movement direction
and energy production and dissemination. Caulet recalled that, “The absorption clouds
attest of downwards and upward motions of gas within the superbubble” [44].
Variation in energy levels was discussed by Parizot et al. (2004), “The energy release
inside the SB is not continuous and experiences strong peaks when an OS star enters
the Wolf-Rayet stage or when a new SN explodes” [45].
12. DIFFICULT TO STUDY SUPERBUBBLES
A. Superbubbles are Invisible
There is a unique impediment to serious analysis of superbubbles—they are
invisible. It was reported that, “Special instruments are needed to identify
superbubbles, because they are not usually found in the visible spectrum” [46].

B. Superbubble Imaging
One solution to the invisibility of superbubbles is to colorize the gathered
astronomical data. WiseGEEK (2014) noted, “Images of superbubbles can be
produced by colorizing telescope data to show people the specific shape and
structure of these space phenomenon. They are not produced in a perfect bubble,
but rather in a cloud of gas that may be abstract in nature” [47].

The Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope is one instrument capable of generating
images of superbubbles. One media account compared celestial bodies to common

 
124 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

waterfowl, “The images show a superbubble glowing in gamma rays, forming a


bright region that looks roughly like a duck” [48].

13. SUPERBUBBLES CAUSE SHOCK WAVES

Termination shocks and secondary shocks were explained earlier in this chapter. At
this point, a word about shock waves is in order. Plait (2008) suggested that
superbubbles “also compress that gas, creating vast and powerful shock waves” [49].
14. SUPERBUBBLES SOLVE ASTRONOMICAL MYSTERY

Astronomers have long been puzzled by a fundamental fact about energy balance
in the universe—more energy was emitted by superbubbles than should have been
the case, based upon mass and density calculations. Where did the extra energy
come from? Two main factors will be considered, the fact of the energy balance
mystery and the superbubble solution.
A. The Energy Balance Mystery
“A long-running problem in high-energy astrophysics has been that some
superbubbles in the Large Magellanic Cloud, including N44, give off a lot more
x-rays than expected from models of their structure” [50].
B. The Explanation: Superbubbles
Prostak (2012) explained how the extra energy detected in superbubbles was
generated. Two main factors produced the additional energy, supernova shock
waves striking the walls and reverberating within, and the extremely hot material
continually evaporating from the cavity walls [51].
15. VARIABLES AFFECTING SUPERBUBBLES

We think of superbubbles as monolithic, powerful astronomical phenomenon, and


indeed they are. But they are also natural entities, and as such are subject to
organic and natural influences. Chu (2008) noted four variables that are known to
affect superbubbles, “Physical properties of a bubble/superbubble can be affected
by the magnetic field, thermal conduction, turbulent mixing, (and) an
inhomogenous ambient medium” [52].
16. SUPERBUBBLE NON-THERMAL X-RAY EMISSIONS

X-ray emissions are typically reflective of the ambient thermal environment,


which in the case of superbubbles is excessive heat. That is why scientists were

 
Superbubbles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 125

surprised to ascertain the existence of x-rays at room temperature, so to speak.


Chu (2008) reported, “Non-thermal x-ray emissions is perhaps the most
unexpected discovery from Chandra and XMM-Newton observations of
superbubbles” [53]. The aforementioned findings of non-thermal x-rays were
corroborated by other technology. For instance, “Recent Suzuku observations of
the superbubble in the LMC H II complex N 11 also detected non-thermal x-ray
emissions” [54].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
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[11] Y.U. Chu, “Bubbles and Superbubbles: Observations and Theories,” International Astronomical
Union, p. 350, 2008.
[12] P. Plait, “Hot Stars Blow a Superbubble,” Slate, January 29, 2013. [Online]. Available:
www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/01/29/blowing-superbubble-hot-stars-blow-huge-bubble-
of-gas.html. Accessed 26th Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[13] Burrows, “X-Ray,” p. 1.
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superbubble.htm. Accessed 26th Feb. 2014, p. 1.

 
126 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[15] K. McAlpine, “Cosmic Rays may be Born in Superbubbles,” Cosmos Magazine Online, November
24, 2011. [Online]. Available: www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/cosmic-rays-may-be-born-
superbubbles/. Accessed 15th Jan. 2014, p. 1.
[16] United States. National Aeronautical and Space Administration, “A Surprisingly Bright
Superbubble,” July 29, 2013. [Online]. Available: www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery
/image_feature_2346.html#.UtbjgNJDs18. Accessed 15th Jan. 2014, p. 1.
[17] S. Prostak, “Chandra Observes X-Ray Bright Superbubble in Large Magellanic Cloud,”
ScienceNews.com., August 31, 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/
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[18] Burrows, “X-Ray,” p. 2.
[19] Burrows, “X-Ray,” p. 2.
[20] Darling, Universal Book, p. 474.
[21] L. Grossman, “Cosmic Ray Factory Observed in Stellar Superbubble,” NewScientist.com., 2014.
[Online]. Available: www.newscientist.com/article/dn21210-cosmic-ray-factory-observed-in-stellar-
superbubble.html1#.UwGaiuNdVCE. Accessed 26th Feb. 2014, p. 1.
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[24] Grossman, “Ray Factory,” p. 1.
[25] Burrows, “X-Ray,” p. 1.
[26] C.Q. Choi, “Space ‘Superbubbles’ Could Spawn Energetic Cosmic Rays,” Space,com., November 4,
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15th Jan. 2014, p. 2.
[27] Choi, “Spawn Energetic,” p. 2.
[28] Parizot et al., “Collective Effects,” p. 755.
[29] Grossman, “Ray Factory,” p. 1.
[30] WiseGEEK, “What is,” p. 1.
[31] WiseGEEK, “What is,” p. 1.
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[33] McAlpine, “Born in Superbubbles,” p. 1.
[34] Zaninetti, “Shape of Superbubbles,” p. 1080.
[35] J. Castor, R. McCray, and R. Weaver, “Interstellar Bubbles,” The Astrophysical Journal, vol. 200, p.
L107, September 1997.
[36] McAlpine, “Born in Superbubbles,” p. 1.
[37] Caulet, “Hot and Cold,” p. 4.
[38] Parizot et al., “Collective Efforts,” p. 750.
[39] Parizot et al., “Collective Efforts,” p. 750.
[40] Parizot et al., “Collective Efforts,” p. 752.
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[42] McAlpine, “Born in Superbubbles,” p. 1.
[43] McAlpine, “Born in Superbubbles,” p. 1.
[44] Caulet, “Hot and Cold,” p. 4.
[45] Parizot et al., “Collective Efforts,” p. 750.
[46] WiseGEEK, “What is,” p. 1.
[47] WiseGEEK, “What is,” p. 1.
[48] Grossman, “Ray Factory,” p. 1.
[49] Plait, “Hot Stars,” p. 1.
[50] Prostak, “Chandra Observes,” p. 1.
[51] Prostak, “Chandra Observes,” p. 1.
[52] Chu, “Bubbles and Superbubbles,” p. 350.
[53] Chu, “Bubbles and Superbubbles,” p. 350.
[54] Chu, “Bubbles and Superbubbles,” p. 350.

 
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 127-133 127

CHAPTER 13

Perturbation, Lost Asteroids and the Increasing


Number of Space Objects
Abstract: Three main topics were discussed in this chapter. Perturbation is the
tendency of larger astronomical bodies to alter the orbits of smaller objects which stray
too close to the larger entity. Lost asteroids are a class of asteroids previously tracked
but now lost to asteroid trackers. Their present location is unknown. Finally, it was
documented that there is an increasing number of NEOs, asteroids and comets.

Keywords: Adonis, Aethra, Barcelona, CDC imaging, Euphrosyne, Faye’s


comet, giant molecular cloud, Hermes, Hidalgo, Lick, Lowell Observatory,
Midas, Mirelle, Mount Wilson Observatory, Olympia, perturbation, Schmidt
telescope, Sisyphus, Troilus, Zerlina.

1. INTRODUCTION

All of the chapters in this e-book thusfar have been focused on specific individual
space dangers, like asteroids, space debris and superbubbles. But this chapter is a
bit different. In this chapter we will consider some extra danger factors. So, while
we have already had a chapter devoted to asteroids, this chapter introduces a scary
concept known as lost asteroids. Perturbation does not directly threaten anyone or
anything but it can result in orbital changes of asteroids, comets and centaurs.

And the final section of this chapter documents a frightening fact about NEOs,
asteroids and comets and centaurs. They are all increasing in number and will
continue to do so due to natural and normal astronomical processes.

2. PERTURBATION
A. Definition
Perturbation has a very specific definition in astronomy. A standard astronomy
textbook defines perturbation as an altered orbit of a smaller space object due to
the gravitational influence of another, typically larger space body [1].

B. Asteroid Perturbation
Asteroids can perturb each other. Noted astronomer Ian Ridpath (2006)
commented, “Asteroids are dry, dusty lumps made of rock, metal or both, that

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
128 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

orbit the sun. If their paths cross, asteroids can collide, break up, and be set on a
path to Earth” [2].

C. Jupiter’s Perturbation of Apollo Asteroids


Planets in our solar system don’t get bigger than Jupiter. It is the giant planet
among the giant planets. And its size conveys extreme gravitational influence.

Reynolds (2001) explained that the Apollo asteroids are Earth-crossing orbits. He
added, “The gravitational pull of Jupiter affects the orbits of these asteroids,
making them quite dangerous as their orbits shift” [3]. Lewis offered an extended
explanation of this phenomenon:
The possibility of long-range migration of early nebular solids is greatly
enhanced by the presence of the giant planets, especially Jupiter. So
powerful is its gravity that it can stir up bodies in resonant orbits (orbits
whose periods are harmonically related to Jupiter’s) throughout the
asteroid belt. Jupiter’s perturbing force is the major cause of asteroids
crossing Earth’s orbit, and the controlling factor in most of the short-
period comets [4].

D. Neptune Perturbs Comets


Mighty Jupiter is not the sole giant planet. Neptune is also more than capable of
influencing minor planets gravitationally, as well. And in certain circumstances
Neptune and Jupiter can combine their gravitational power to create a new Earth-
crossing space object.

Lewis (1998) postulated a series of events beginning with a giant comet located in
the Kuiper Belt. As the comet passes Neptune, it is kicked into the gravitational field
of Jupiter and then sent into the inner solar system as an Earth-crossing object [5].

E. Perturbation Examples
Lewis (1997) referred to “gravitational perturbations of small bodies in low-
inclination orbits, there are a few that have been sent on thrill rides by close
planetary fly-bys” [6].

Examples of these perturbed space objects were given by Lewis, including


Euphrosyne and Aethra, Olympia, Mireille and Barcelona. Other examples can be
cited, including Zerlina, Lick, Midas, Sisyphus, Hidalgo, Troilus, Betuilia and 1975
YA [7].
Perturbation, Lost Asteroids and the Increasing Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 129

Darling (2008) also exemplified a perturbed asteroid. Faye’s Comet was once a
long-period comet, until Jupiter nudged it into an Earth-crossing orbit [8].

F. Meteorites
“Astronomers are fairly confident that they understand how most meteorites make
their way to Earth,” according to Gonzales and Richards (2004) [9]. Meteorites
are “irregularly-sized and shaped shards of larger destroyed parent bodies in the
asteroid belt. Some meteors make their way into unstable zones, resonating with
the orbit of Jupiter. Jupiter’s gravity will then perturb the meteoric body in the
unstable zone at the same place in its orbit when it completes a revolution around
the Sun” [10]. Once the meteor is perturbed into a less circular and more eccentric
orbit—these meteors may travel into the inner solar system. Those that establish
Earth-crossing orbits could strike the Earth [11].

G. Significance of Perturbation
Perturbation is a very significant astronomical phenomenon. It has substantial
consequences and it occurs frequently. Gonzales and Richards (2004) provided a
detailed explanation of the significance of perturbation:

While the creation of far-flung comet reservoirs around the Sun depends on
gravitational deflections by the major planets, once a comet is in one of these
huge, nearly parabolic orbits it’s very sensitive to galactic-scale
perturbations. These include the galactic radial and vertical tides, near
encounters with giant molecular clouds (GMCs) and passing stars. These
galactic tides vary as the Sun oscillates up and down relative to the disk mid-
plane on its trek around the center of the galaxy. The expected combined
effect of all these perturbers is an occasional spike in the comet influx into
the inner Solar System superimposed on more semi-regular variations [12].

H. Perturbation Can Occur at a Distance


Space exists on a scale unimaginable to many of us. Distances are vast, and
measuring distance necessitates salient benchmarks. For instance a light-year is
the distance light travels in a year, which is a very long way.

The point to be made here is that perturbation can occur at a considerable distance.
Planets don’t have to make contact with lesser space objects to influence their orbits
[13]. Plait (2008) noted, “Oort cloud objects typically stay well away from the Sun,
130 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

hundreds of billions of miles out. It takes some sort of perturbing influence, some
kind of shove, to change their orbits enough to drop them into the inner solar system.
Such an effect may come from a passing star a few light- years away” [14].

3. LOST ASTEROIDS
A. Most Apollo Asteroids Have Been Lost
“NEAs pose observing problems much greater than those of main-belt objects,”
Peebles (2002) reported [15]. He added, “They are small, meaning they can be
seen only when they are close to Earth. Because they are close to Earth, they
move through the night sky at a high angular rate and can be observed for only a
limited time, making it difficult to calculate a reliable orbit. Because of the
elliptical orbits of those objects, it may be up to two decades before they are again
well placed for recovery” [16]. In fact, “For these reasons, most of the early
Apollo-type asteroids were lost” [17].

B. Adonis: Asteroids Can be Difficult to Locate


We just learned that asteroids can be difficult to locate for a number of reasons,
including their size, orbital period and orbital inclination. We might consider a
case study in the difficulty of detecting asteroids, Comet Adonis.

Adonis was a “much smaller object,” and relatively difficult to photograph and
observe [18]. According to Peebles (2000), “The first attempt at recovery, in
1943, was unsuccessful” [19]. Later, “Adonis passed some twenty million miles
from Earth in 1959, but was not seen” [20].

C. Hermes
An asteroid named Hermes is missing. It was originally discovered by German
astronomer Karl Reinmuth in 1937 [21]. It passed within 780,000 km of Earth,
but it’s orbit was never established well enough locate it again [22]. “The object is
now considered lost” [23].

D. 719 Albert is Missing


“There remains only one missing asteroid, 719 Albert,” Peebles (2000) contended
[24]. That space object was discovered on October 3, 1911, by Johann Palisa, who
Perturbation, Lost Asteroids and the Increasing Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 131

also identified four other new asteroids that same month [25]. Albert stood out
because “of its fast motion of 0.75 degrees per day, indicating that it was passing
relatively close to Earth” [26]. His observations and astronomical measurements
were interrupted when clouds moved in and obscured the view [27].

E. 878 Matilda
She was discovered on September 6, 1916, by Seth B. Nicholson and Harlow
Shipley at the Mount Wilson Observatory [28]. The asteroid was named after
Shipley’s infant daughter. But the images of the asteroid were too dim to allow
close observation, and Matilda was only visible for six weeks [29]. “The resulting
observations were not sufficient to calculate a reliable orbit, and it was lost for the
next 75 years,” Peebles noted [30].
Matilda was relocated by Garreth Williams at the Minor Planet Center on April
10, 1991 [31]. He compared images from 1977, 1984 and 1985, “which clinched
the investigation” [32].

4. INCREASING NUMBER OF SPACE OBJECTS


A. Asteroids
There are going to be more asteroids next year than there are now. That is because
the cosmic forces that produce asteroids are not finished. There is a substantial
number of unknown asteroids remaining to be discovered, and natural
astronomical forces continually create new ones.
“On average there are 400,000 tons of new Apollo/Amor asteroids introduced
each year,” Heppenhemer (1978) observed [33]. That is nearly a half-million tons
of new asteroids annually.

There is another reason why we can describe the quantity of asteroids as


increasing. It is believed that only a small number of the existing asteroids have
been located and identified. Darling (2004) suggested that approximately half of
the asteroids of 1 to 10 km size have been discovered [34]. A more startling fact
might be considered—only a tiny percentage of the asteroids of 1 km in size have
been located [35].

B. Comets
An increasing quantity of comets can be documented, too. Tyson (2009)
mentioned the historical trend towards increasing discoveries, “But by the 1980s
132 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

as we discovered more comets, asteroids and moons, and as we continued to


characterize their detailed properties, it became clearer that the Sun’s planets are
only part of the solar system’s story” [36].

“Generally speaking, a bright comet appears about once a decade, but many faint
comets are discovered each year,” according to Reynolds (2001) [37].

Experimental research methods have been applied to the concept of comet


formation. Fernandez (1985) concluded that the number of new comets each year
was 1020 [38]. Similarly, Horner, Bailey and Evans (2008) concluded, “Both
observations and simulations suggest that one new short-period comet is produced
every 200 years” [39].

C. NEOs
We have learned that there is an increasing number of asteroids, and that the
number of comets is also on the rise. The same is true of NEOs.

Advances in astronomical technology can lead to substantial numbers of new


discoveries. Reynolds noted that when the Lowell Observatory added a twenty-
four inch Schmidt telescope with a charged-couple device (CCD) imaging
capacity, astronomers discovered one new NEA each evening [40]. And when a
supercomputer was applied to the task, “the discovery of thousands of asteroids in
less than a year” was reported [41].

O’Neill (1999) noted in 1999 that only about one-third of the relatively large
minor planets have been discovered, and far fewer of the smaller space objects
[42]. Horner, Bailey and Evans (2008) noted the addition of at least one Earth-
crossing Centaur every 880 years [43].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zone of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 384.
Perturbation, Lost Asteroids and the Increasing Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 133

[2] I. Ridpath, Astronomy. New York: D.K. Publishing, 2006, p. 124.


[3] M.D. Reynolds, Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania:
Stackpole Books, 2001, p. 9.
[4] J.S. Lewis, Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown. Reading,
Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998, p. 56.
[5] Lewis, Without End, p. 186.
[6] Lewis, Without End, p. 145.
[7] Lewis, Without End, p. 145.
[8] Darling, Universal Book, p. 185.
[9] G. Gonzales, and J.W. Richards, The Priviliged Planet. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2004,
p. 75.
[10] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, pp. 160-1.
[11] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, pp. 160-1.
[12] Gonzales and Richards, Privileged Planet, pp. 160-1.
[13] P. Plait, Death from the Skies. New York: Viking Books, 2000, p. 238.
[14] Plait, Death, p. 238.
[15] C. Peebles, Asteroids: A History. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2008, p. 63.
[16] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 63.
[17] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 63.
[18] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 64.
[19] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 64.
[20] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 64.
[21] Darling, Universal Book, p. 230.
[22] Darling, Universal Book, p. 230.
[23] Darling, Universal Book, p. 230.
[24] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[25] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[26] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[27] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[28] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[29] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[30] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[31] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[32] Peebles, Asteroids, p. 47.
[33] T.A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns. Ontario, Canada: Apogee Books, 1978, p. 204.
[34] Darling, Universal Book, p. 39.
[35] Darling, Universal Book, p. 39.
[36] N.D.G. Tyson, The Pluto File: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, 2009, p. 50.
[37] Reynolds, Falling Star, p. 3.
[38] J.A. Fernandez, Icarus, vol. 64, p. 308, 1985.
[39] J. Horner, N.W. Evans, and M.F. Bailey, “Simulation of the Population of Centaurs I: The Bulk
Statistics,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 1, no. 4, p. 14, February 2008.
[40] Reynolds, Falling Star, p. 11.
[41] Reynolds, Falling Star, p. 11.
[42] G. O’Neill, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. Ontario, Canada: Apogee Books, 1999, p.
167.
[43] Horner, Evans and Bailey, “Bulk Statistics,” p. 14.
UNIT II: ROCKET RISK FACTORS
134 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 134-153

CHAPTER 14

Rocket Dangers
Abstract: This chapter described and documented the inherent dangers associated with
rocket transportation. It was revealed that rockets are the most hazardous mode of
transportation ever invented. The intrinsic fact of rocket risk was acknowledged, and the
technological nature of rocket risks explored. Spacesuit safety and efficacy were
examined. The rigors of acceleration and deceleration were considered.

Keywords: Apollo XIII, Armadillo Aerospace, Booz Allen Hamilton,


catastrophic engine failures, combustion gasses, Commercial Space Act, Federal
Register, life support systems, mechanical/thermodynamic, Mojave Spaceport,
Northrup-Grumman, propellant, Rand Corporation, Scaled Composites, Space-X,
SpaceShip Two, thermal radiation, thermodynamic, toxic vapor hazard, Virgin
Galactic.

1. INTRODUCTION

Every human enterprise has a down side associated with it, some consequence or
by-product that is undesirable for one or more stakeholders. Transportation is no
different, as every method of transit ever invented has involved deaths and
injuries. There were pedestrian accidents involving people walking before burro
or oxen or horse-drawn vehicles suffered collisions. Automobiles have been
primary causes of death in the U.S. and other nations, and rail and airline
accidents have similarly occurred from time to time.

Rocket transportation is qualitatively and quantitatively different then prior modes


of transportation. It is so dangerous that waivers will be required for spacefarers
to indemnify space tourism vendors against the relatively considerable risks. This
chapter will first discuss and verbally qualify the inherently great risk associated
with rocket travel. Then sections will examine the tremendous risks involved in
this genre of the travel industry known generally as adventure or extreme tourism.

2. ROCKET DANGERS

“Launch system safety is driven by rocket engine catastrophic failure


characteristics. Rocket engines are very highly loaded mechanical/thermodynamic
systems confining combustion gasses almost as hot as the surface of the sun,”
asserted Hopkins, Andrews and Andrews (2001) [1]. They concluded that,

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 135

“Occasional failures are to be expected and significant portions of those failures


will be catastrophic (ie, result in an explosion which damages nearby engines and
systems). We believe catastrophic engine failures are unavoidable in the
foreseeable future” [2]. Harrison (2001) echoed the previously-mentioned study,
“Transportation to and from space is extremely dangerous, and we should rejoice
that so few spacefarers have lost their lives thusfar. These harsh conditions shape
spacecraft designs, life support systems, equipment and supplies, and regimens for
preserving life and health” [3].

The Associated Press (2005) reported, “The inventors and moguls of the infant
space tourism industry predict there will be deaths along the way, but it’s worth it
so regular people can one day blast into outer space” [4]. Michael Kelly, a former
Northrup Grumman executive, admitted, “There are going to be fatalities. It’s a
risky business,. in the early days of personal spaceflight this is not transportation,
it is adventure” [5]. The Economist reported that John Carmack, head of
Armadillo Aerospace, and Elon Musk of SpaceX, “emphasized that rocket science
is difficult and risky” [6].

“Safety challenges due to operation in space include the potentially disastrous


effects of loss of cabin pressure, radiation, and space debris,” claimed commercial
space pioneer David Ashford [7]. The Federal Aviation Administration of the
U.S. Department of Transportation provided the following admission in the
Federal Register in 2005:

Space flight remains inherently risky. Testimony concerning a


predecessor to CSLAA highlights the situation. Michael Kelly, of
Northrup-Grumman/Xon Tech, specified that “space flight is years from
being routine, or even a mode of transportation per se. Transportation
refers to reaching a desired destination. Space flight for the foreseeable
future, will be an act in itself.” Commercial Space Act of 2003, H.R.
3245, 108th Cong., (Nov. 5, 2003). Mr. Kelly characterized the
experience as an adventure ride. Others have compared it to mountain
climbing, skydiving, not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, and
other risky endeavors [8].

Michel Van Pelt is a commercial space development proponent. In his seminal


2005 book, Space Tourism, he comprehensively discussed this topic. He
contended that, “Even today being an astronaut is still not a very safe occupation;
launchers have a disturbing tendency to blow up. Space is without air but full of
deadly radiation, and to come back to Earth you have to smack your spacecraft
136 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

into the atmosphere at twenty-five times the speed of sound” [9]. Van Pelt (2005)
recalled the deaths of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle crews, the deaths
of a Soviet cosmonaut in 1967, and three more fatalities in 1971 [10].

In addition to these space deaths there was a number of close calls. The Apollo
XIII crew barely survived an oxygen tank explosion in 1970. Five years later, in
1975, the Soyuz-18 was saved by the emergency escape rockets. In 1983 the same
crisis endangered the Soyuz T-10 crew [11].

“Although most rockets used by governments and research organizations are very
reliable, there is still great danger associated with the building and firing of rocket
engines,” admitted a NASA publication [12]. Leon McKinney, an aerospace
consultant, offered this perspective on rocket engines, “I think the thing to note is
that we’ve been flying rockets since World War II, and they’re all bombs, they’re
flying bombs. If you look at the power generated by the space shuttle main
engine—it has one of the highest power densities of anything short of a nuclear
bomb. It’s tremendous power in a small space. That’s why so much effort is put
into making sure they fly safely” [13].

“The Risks and Dangers of Space Exploration,” was a recent NASA publication.
It conceded the general risks of rocket transportation:

A launch can be affected by many dangers, including highly explosive


fuel, poor weather, malfunctioning equipment, human error and even
birds. Once in flight, the spacecraft can be affected by floating debris,
meteoroids and electromagnetic radiation (coronal mass ejections—or,
solar flares). Re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere also has it’s dangers (as
proven by the Columbia disaster). The reentry path the spacecraft takes
must be perfect, otherwise, if it is too shallow—it will bounce off the
atmosphere, and if it is too steep, it will burn up [14].

Patricia Grace Smith was an Associate Administrator with the Office of


Commercial Space Transportation of the Federal Aviation Administration. It
would be beneficial to consider her 2007 address, “Aware of the Hazards:”

This morning I invite you to join me in a candid look at commercial


rockets and an industry building toward passenger-carrying suborbital
flights. Let me begin with three words. Rockets are dangerous. That’s
why they are handled with respect, carefully monitored and checked in
every detail. Safety governs every aspect of launching rockets from the
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 137

mechanics and propulsion of the vehicle, to its trajectory, to protective


arrangements on the ground. By the time a private launch vehicle leaves
the ground with passengers, a dangerous rocket will be as safe as humans
can make it [15].

Although Smith was a regulatory agency official she seemed to be a guarded


proponent of commercial space tourism. Nevertheless she felt it necessary to offer
this caveat:

So what about rockets? Today, in its infancy, private human space flight
is not seen as a form of transportation. It is widely seen as pure
experience infused with risk. While the longer view of space tourism is
something evolving into an actual space transportation system, the only
view that matters for now is the one we have of an enterprise in its
infancy. The infant of travel is rocket powered. If thrust is greater than
lift for the vehicle during it’s powered ascent, it’s a rocket. Every person
who has ever ridden a rocket knew in advance that it could take you very
far very fast, or everywhere at once in a matter of catastrophe. Danger
and drama are the companions of rocket launches. Many continue to
view private human space flight as a novelty item, a high-cost, high-risk
way to fulfill an ambition [16].

“The act of spaceflight may itself be considered ultrahazardous,” claimed


McGarrigle in the Akron Law Review [17]. The inherent dangers of space to
people were succinctly expressed by Pass (2008), “Outer space and other non-
terrestrial environments present dangerous conditions for the human body” [18].
Pass added that the space environment is hazardous for “spaceships and space
stations, and the habitats that enclose human society” [19].

3. ROCKET TRANSPORTATION DANGER STATISTICS

We are cognizant of the expert opinions presented in the last section. There was
considerable doubt expressed collectively by the sources cited that rockets are a
safe mode of transportation. Now we will examine the empirical record
documented by a half-century of rocket science and practice.

Gibson (2013) briefly reviewed the track record of space travel to date:
138 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Space tourist Dennis Tito calculated that eleven of the 415 spacefaring
people to date died during the experience, a 3% fatality figure [71].
Tabarrok asserted, “Simply put, rockets remain among the least safest
modes of transportation ever invented.” Out of 440 U.S. launches since
1980, “Nearly 5 percent of those launches experienced total failure,
either blowing up or wandering so far off course as to be useless” [65].
Van Pelt noted that of the 240 human space missions before 2005, “the
average of accidents is 1 per 60 flights” [1]. The space shuttle has had
two catastrophic accidents [20].

Kaku (2014) asserted that, “The weakest link is the Titan IV rocket booster
rocket, which has a failure rate of about one in twenty” [21]. Kaku (2014) added,
“Booster rockets in general have a failure rate of 1 in 70 or so” [22].

NASA is considering nuclear-powered spacecraft. This makes the nuclear


spacecraft record especially salient, “Furthermore, there have been three failures
among the 23 missions involving plutonium power packs, one of which released a
significant amount of radiation” [23].

4. ROCKET DANGER CAUSES

There is a number of reasons why rockets are dangerous. We have already learned
about some of them, including the inherent risk associated with the nature and
intensity of the rocket power process. At this point, we might consider a quartet of
factors associated with the risks of rockets.

A. Money
Money was a factor in the space shuttle accidents, and in the new privatized
commercial rocket industry the profit motive guarantees that finance will be an
important rocket safety variable in the future.

The space shuttle suffered because of the need to economize. The Texas Space
Grant Consortium recalled, “The early 1970s were very difficult for NASA.
Following the successes of the early Apollo flights, the agency’s budget was
drastically reduced. Funds for research, development and operations were cut just
as the planning for the space shuttles got underway” [24]. The fiscal crisis was so
dire, “Several times it appeared that the shuttle program might be entirely
cancelled” [25].
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 139

This budgetary pressure was translated into a ruthless and relentless tendency to
economize. The Texas Space Grant Consortium noted, “Often, a ‘cheaper’ system
in one area wouldn’t perform well (or at all) with a ‘cheaper’ system in another
area, and costly rework was necessary” [26]. The same source added that, “Many
of the components on the shuttle were not as good as they could have been
because of choices made during the design process. Choices of second-best
technologies and components were driven by lack of timely finding” [27].

Use of old technology was another manifestation of budget pressures. An online


source suggested, “Yet another reason is that the equipment was so very old.
Designed in the 1970s and completed in the 1980s, the shuttle had some
modifications, over the years, but for the most part, it remained frozen in time”
[28].

The sophistication and rationality of the space shuttle program can be questioned,
in terms of parts replacement logiatics. Pinchefsky (2012) recalled the role of a
popular Internet commerce site, “Famously, at one point, NASA had to find parts
for the shuttle—parts that nobody else made anymore—on eBay” [29]. Perhaps
the difficulty in procuring spare parts had something to do with the fact that the
shuttles were designed for a ten-year life span, yet they served two decades past
their expiration date [30].

The bottom line of NASA cost-cutting and economizing was well-characterized in


their new mantra. “The new philosophy of NASA is faster, cheaper, better,”
according to Kaku (2014) [31].

B. Technology Will Fail


In space, however, things are vastly different. Even a minor mishap can be deadly
because of the harsh space environment and the many space dangers. And one
fundamental fact must be acknowledged, “One thing we have learned is that,
sooner or later, space technology will fail” [32].

C. Human Errors
In fact, there are numerous factors capable of causing an accident in a spacecraft.
Technology as complex as space rockets are rife with opportunities for something
to go wrong. But the most basic factor of all, the human element, may be the most
significant source of mistakes and the accompanying danger.
140 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

“Actual operating experience has shown that in almost all space missions, the real
danger comes from human and technical flaws, i.e., sending the wrong
instructions to space probes, failure of transmitters and solar panels to unfurl
correctly, etc.” [33].

D. Multiple Factors and Causes


Research by Kaku (2014) criticized the Final Environmental Impact Statement
system. He asserted, “The basic assumption of the FEIS is that one can model
accidents on the basis of single event failures, when multiple failures, common
mode failures, human error and design flaws have contributed to most accidents.
Unfortunately, it is beyond the power of computers to realistically model these
more complex types of accident” [34].

“Rockets are dangerous, complicated and relatively unreliable. No one has yet
built a launcher that is guaranteed to work every time. A misaligned switch, loose
bolt or programming error can lead to disaster, or with a human crew, a potential
tragedy,” concluded Hollingham in 2012 [35].

5. MOTIVES TO REDUCE RISK

It might be useful to consider the motivation of commercial space tourism


vendors in safety planning and decisions. There is a quartet of possible reasons
impelling risk reduction.

A. Government Regulation
The Commercial Launch Act Amendments and FAA regulations governing
human space flight comprise the corpus of regulatory and legal supervision of
commercial space tourism industry. Compliance with this regulatory environment
ostensibly would serve to motivate safety-consciousness and risk reduction
behavior.

B. Industrial Survival
In light of the intrinsic nature of commercial space tourism as an extreme genre of
travel and tourism, it should not be surprising that safety awareness and emphasis
on safety is a primary factor.

FAA Associate Administrator Smith remarked, “This industry has safety in its
marrow as the central imperative, understanding that if the industry is to survive
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 141

and prosper it must be known for a thing safely done. Still, given human nature,
we all know that perfection is not possible. No matter what we do, there will be
accidents and someone will eventually die” [36].

C. Professional Values
“I have had countless contacts and long experience with the men and women of
this industry,” admitted Smith. She added, “The same experience tells me that
nothing is more important to them than safety, in the same way nothing is more
important to those of us at the FAA. I have heard industry leaders say they will
not be bound by some magic minimum number of test flights. They say they will
fly passengers when they are satisfied the launch vehicle is as safe as they can
make it regardless of how long it takes” [37].

D. Threat of Civil Litigation


Hopefully there will not be litigation but more likely than not lawsuits will fly
sooner or later. Successful civil litigation on behalf of plaintiffs injured or killed
by space tourism would undoubtedly motivate safety consciousness if it was not
already present.

6. RISK UNDERESTIMATED

There is some belief that risk estimates provided by government agencies are
underestimates of the actual degree of danger involved. For example, the Cassini
Space Mission elicited substantial public criticism of the accuracy of NASA risk
estimates.

The Cassini Space Mission was highly controversial because it was powered by
the largest amount of plutonium ever sent into space in a spacecraft. 400,000
curies of plutonium, weighing seventy-two pounds, was arranged in three
plutonium power packs [38]. “If that quantity of plutonium is somehow dispersed
into a population, there is no question that such an accident could cause
significant health effects resulting in thousands of casualties. All scientific experts
agreed upon this point,” Kaku claimed [39].

NASA originally estimated that the Cassini vehicle would result in 2,300 deaths
on the Earth from cancer caused by the plutonium [40]. In a revised Final
Environmental Impact Statement, NASA lowered their mortality estimates to a
mere 120 additional cancer deaths [41]. Kaku (2014) estimated that the NASA
predicted death count was underestimated by a factor of 100 [42].
142 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

“If we carefully examine, line by line, the physics analysis behind NASA’s Final
Environmental Impact Statement, we find that the FEIS has consistently
underestimated the possible risks of an accident with the Cassini Space Mission,”
Kaku claimed [43]. Kaku (2014) specified three understatements:

The FEIS consistently underestimates the possible risks, avoiding the


maximum credible scenarios. Since NASA has never conducted a full-
scale test of a realistic accident scenario, the FEIS simply makes up
numbers to compensate for its ignorance. However, the FEIS consistently
fabricates these numbers in a certain way to arrive at the lowest casualty
figures. The FEIS disguises this fact by giving the results in three
significant figures, which makes the figures seem authoritative and
accurate, when in fact they are largely created by fiction [44].

7. DANGERS ON THE GROUND


A. Launch Dangers
Rocket transportation is not only dangerous in space, or the ascent to space. It is
necessary for the sake of comprehensiveness to also consider the dangers posed
on the Earth by rockets. Take- off facility rocket risks were recounted by the
landmark space tourism study conducted by the Space Transportation Association
and NASA:

Transportation systems for general PST and tourism will, by their nature,
carry a concentrated load of propellants, potentially including volatile
hazardous materials. If a high level of safety and reliability is established,
then current standards may be relaxed. But until enough of an operational
database is established that is adequate to provide confidence in safe
operations, STSs must comply with current space vehicle regulations [45].

The same source specified some of these hazards:

Explosions, caused by the uncontrolled combustion of propellants, may


produce a blast wave with the potential of causing damage by crushing
forces and winds. Debris, made up of vehicle fragments, that may land
upon structures or populated areas, and fires, where the uncontrolled
combustion of propellants results in heat, or thermal radiation, must be
controlled, in the aftermath of an accident where a vehicle’s composite
structure or its cargo may be consumed by a fire, a toxic vapor hazard
may still occur [46].
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 143

B. Widely Scattered Debris Field


Experience with rocket crashes during failed launch reveals relatively large debris
fields. Kaku (2014) noted, “But anyone who lived through the Challenger
explosion, the Delta rocket explosion, etc., will realize that debris has been
pulverized and spread over a significant area. Eyewitness accounts of the Delta
rocket explosion indicated debris scattered over several miles” [47].

C. International Experience
Both Russia and China have active aerospace programs. They also both disregard
the consequences to those residing in close proximity to rocket launch sites. Phillips
(2012) reported, “As documented in Space.com., several Russian launches have
failed, and since their launch sites are all in the interior, both the lower rocket stages
and the upper part of the rocket have impacted people’s lives” [48]. According to
Phillips (2012), “In China, there was an entire village devastated, a Chinese Long
March rocket failed shortly after lift-off and crashed into a nearby village” [49].

D. Cassini Space Mission


“The Cassini Probe will be whipping around the Earth at around 40,000 miles per
hour. If there is even the tiniest miscalculation of the trajectory, the Cassini may
burn up in the atmosphere and spray a significant portion of the land area with
plutonium,” Kaku claimed [50].

E. Property Damage and Devaluation


A final dimension of rocket launches might be considered, property damage and
devaluation. One critical deficiency of the Final Environmental Impact Statement
for the Cassini Space Mission was the omission of any mention of potential civil
liability for property damage. Kaku (2014) realized that, “Even if no significant
amounts of radiation are released, property values are expected to plummet” [51].

“And if significant amounts of radiation are released, then whole areas must be
quarantined, earth dug up, and placed in 55-gallon drums, houses hosed down
with fire trucks, crops impounded, etc.,” according to Kaku [52].

Litigation would seem inevitable. For the sake of comparison, during the Three
Mile Island nuclear crisis, 13 curies of radioactivity were involved, compared to
the 400,000 curies in the Cassini space probe [53]. Yet in the Three Mile Island
case there was approximately $2 billion in legal claims [54].
144 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

8. ROCKET FUEL DANGERS


A. Nitrogen Tetroxide
Nitrogen tetroxide is a nasty substance. According to Jonathon McDowell of the
Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, inhaling this gas would be “like
acid in the lungs” [55]. It is a proven carcinogen, and direct exposure can produce
burns to the lungs, throat and skin. Dead livestock have reportedly been found in
the flight path of rockets after grazing on grass contaminated by emissions from
launches [56].

B. NASA Uses Nitrogen Tetroxide


NASA acknowledges using nitrogen tetroxide, “although more sparingly than
Russia,” according to Brian Paleszewski, who was in charge of advanced fuels at
NASA’s Glenn Research Center. It was used for “maneuvering and deorbiting the
space shuttle,” and in “many navigational and commercial satellites” [57].

C. 1975 Apollo/Soyuz Incident


Nitrogen tetroxide was the culprit in a 1975 space accident. “Three Apollo Soyuz
astronauts were hospitalized for five days and treated for lung irritation after
nitrogen tetroxide leaked from the steering jets into the cabin during reentry,”
according to Marder [58].

D. Sloshing
A new potential variable, sloshing, has been identified and is currently being
investigated. The ESA is sponsoring research into how liquid fuel acts at take-off
and in the immediate aftermath of lift-off. In particular they are interested in
attaining a better understanding of sloshing. “Improving our understanding of
sloshing behaviour is important, because it could be one of the major forces
affecting a launcher as it flies,” the ESA announced [59]. The gravity of this
research was made clear, “Sloshing can induce changes in the centre of gravity
and lead to potentially dangerous in-flight oscillations” [60].

9. STATIC ELECTRICITY

Static electricity is a low-energy type of electricity capable of making hair stand


up. Lou (2011) noted, “For most of us, static electricity is just a mild annoyance.
For humans in space, however, static electricity is murder lightning, waiting to
deliver a death zap to anyone in its way” [61].
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 145

It seems that there was insufficient awareness of the danger posed by static
electricity in space, “Recently, scientists realized that the surfaces of the moon and
Mars accumulate enough static electricity to short-circuit vital astronaut-life-
preserving equipment, maybe even the suits protecting them from the vacuum of
space” [62]. Lou (2011) observed, “And it doesn’t take a lunar walk-about to get the
static going, either. Unpredictable solar storms can generate enough electricity to
knock out equipment as well, just when astronauts need the most protection” [63].

10. SPACESUITS
A. Spacesuits are Critically Important
Perhaps it goes without saying as a matter of common knowledge, but spacesuits
are a matter of survival in space. Astronotes observed this fact:

Space is a crazy place where in the shadows you could freeze to death in
seconds and boil in the sunlight the next! Your space suit is vital in keeping
you alive making it a mini space ship in itself. It regulates the body’s
temperature to cancel the hot and cold temperatures outside, and even the
astronaut’s own body heat building up inside it, it uses layers of insulation
and a cooling system. Near Earth space is about -180 degrees outside so it
is extremely cold,. But when in direct light from our sizzling Sun it is an
eye-watering 115 degrees C. So spacewalks can be fine for a short period of
time, but say there’s a glitch in the spacesuit’s cooling system or a tear
occurs from a piece of space debris hitting the suit, things could go fatally
wrong. Not only is the space suit keeping your temperature regulated, it is
allowing you to breathe in space. Space is a vacuum and obviously we are
unable to breathe in it without the aid of a space suit. An average life span
for a tank of oxygen is between 6-8 hours [64].

Bellows (2008) blogged the following about an obscure incident from the 1960s, “In
1965, in a space-suit test went awry, a technician in an altitude chamber was exposed
to a hard vacuum. The defective suit was unable to hold pressure, and the man
collapsed after fourteen seconds” [65]. The necessity for spacesuits was nicely
explained by another online source, “To explore and work in space, astronauts must
take their environment with them because there is no atmospheric pressure and no
oxygen to sustain life outside of their craft. When outside, humans need the
protection of a space suit” [66]. The spacesuits worn by American astronauts during
the Skylab and ISS missions cost $12 million apiece, and have “a modular design so
complex that users require an assistant to put them on” [67].
146 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

B. Dust
Dust poses a unique and ubiquitous danger to spacesuits. Past space missions have
been plagued with moon dust, and it is far more serious than you might think.

“During their mission, the dust clogged the joints in their suits to the point that
they couldn’t move, and the dust was so erosive that it wore through three layers
of Kevlar-like boot material,” it was reported in 2011. Lou (2011) added,
“Scientists later found out that moondust, is lethal to human beings.” And Martian
dust may be even worse, “The dirt on the red planet is so dangerous that NASA
calls it the number one risk of a manned expedition to Mars. It’s corrosive and
gritty and doesn’t just sit there like moondust, it whips itself into dust devils,
slapping everything in sight” [68].

C. Spacesuit Problems
The ESA astronaut faced a terrifying situation. “With his eyes and ears covered
by a growing blob of water—and faced with the counter-intuitive but very real
prospect of drowning in the vacuum of space—European Space Agency astronaut
Luca Parmitano made it back safely to the safety of the station’s airlock in the
nick of time, assisted by fellow space walker Christopher Cassidy” [69].

This was a unique and definitely worst-case scenario. The result was an
immediate and intensive investigation, “The July 16, 2013, incident was the most
serious known incident ever encountered during a NASA spacewalk and the space
agency launched an extensive, wide- ranging mishap investigation to find out
what went wrong and what steps need to be taken to prevent a recurrence” [70].

The results of the investigation were incomplete and not entirely reassuring, “The
mishap board concluded that the leak was caused by a subtle water chemistry
issue in the cooling system of Parmitano’s spacesuit. Contamination built up and
blocked a filter, allowing water to make its way into a line that feeds air to the
helmet. The source of contamination is not known” [71].

D. Spacesuits Described
It might be useful for us to consider the spacesuits in some detail. There are three
basic main parts of the complete spacesuit. These include the lower module, the
upper module, and the helmet.
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 147

The Lower Torso Assembly (LTA) is the bottom part of the spacesuit. This
module consists of boots and pants [72]. The material is a composite comprised of
urethane-coated nylon, Dacron, neoprene-coated nylon and five layers of
aluminized Mylar, with an exterior surface made of Kevlar, Nomex and Teflon
[73]. The suits are designed to regulate internal temperature and protect astronauts
against micrometeorite strikes [74].

The Hard Upper Torso (HUT) module is made of fiberglass and protects the torso
and arms of spacefarers. It also connects the arm and glove model, and the helmet
module [75]. The Primary Life Support System (PLSS) is attached to the back of
the HUT and it contains and regulates the oxygen and battery packs. This system
removes heat, humidity, odor and carbon dioxide from the suit, and contains
communications equipment and an array of sensors [76]. The Display and Control
Module (DCM) which keeps them informed on the PLSS data, is affixed to the
front of the HUT [77].

The Apollo space helmets, manufactured of Kevlar and high-strength


polycarbonate composite material, are secured to the HUT by a pressure-sealed
neck ring mechanism [78]. A visor is worn during missions outside of the ISS or
spacecraft. It shields astronaut eyes against ultraviolet radiation and provides
thermal comfort for the head and face [79].

11. INSURANCE

The existence of space insurance is in itself evidence that there are risks to be
encountered. We might examine the insurance services and products offered by
one firm to ascertain the possibilities of protecting space activity through the
acquisition of commercial insurance. Sputnik Insurance Center provides
comprehensive space activity insurance. Eight different, specific space activity
policies are available. These include the following:

Insurance of space rocket techniques at production and ground


experimental testing stages, 2) Insurance of space rocket techniques
during transportation to the launch site and stowage (including safe
stowage at the manufacturer’s facility, 3) Insurance during pre-launching
preparation, 4) Insurance of space rockets launch, 5) Insurance of
spacecraft destruction, damage or failure, 6) Insurance of spacecraft
during flight tests (commissioning),7) Insurance of spacecraft in-orbit
operation, and 8) Third-party liability insurance [80]. In addition to those
standard space activity insurance products and services, Sputnik offers
148 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

additional items. These include policies pertaining to property, insurance


of business risks, accident insurance, travel insurance, aircraft insurance,
cargo insurance, vehicle insurance, comprehensive insurance of
construction and assembly works, machinery and machine breakdown
insurance, and medical insurance [81].

12. RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT DANGER

Aerospace America reported on commercial space developments in a December


2007 story on the Scaled Composite accident at the Mojave Spaceport. On July
26, 2007, an accident during a propellant flow test on SpaceShip Two resulted in
the death of Eric Blackwell, Todd Ivens and Glen May and the critical injury of
three additional men. Douglas (2007) observed that, “This accident serves as a
reminder that spaceflight is an inherently risky business, but it should not give
cause to waver in our determination to open the frontier of space to the common
man” [82].

Insurance is available to assist with research and development funding. For


instance, Sputnik Insurance Company provides insurance, “At the stages of
production and ground experimental testing it is possible to insure the damages
related to destruction or damage of space rocket techniques, its components
during manufacturing, assembly and testing, as well as losses occurring because
of delays in production caused by production shutdown or interruption” [83].

13. MILITARIZATION

A final dimension of rocket transportation danger might be considered, a


decidedly futuristic one. It is possible that the propulsion systems of future
spacecraft will be so powerful that the fuel could pose danger due to its potency.
Zubrin (1999) suggested, “The issue of danger is different. Starflight requires the
deployment of vast amounts of energy in compact form. Any system that can
dispense such energies is implicitly a weapon of mass destruction with potentials
far exceeding the twentieth century’s nuclear arsenals” [84].

14. ACCELERATION & DECELERATION


A. Significance of Acceleration & Deceleration
How might an observer describe the physiological consequences of acceleration
and deceleration? Fryxel (2006) referred to “the crushing acceleration” [85]. Van
Rocket Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 149

Pelt (2005) realized the same thing and provided a comparison between
acceleration and deceleration and the other forces in the space environment, “The
items that are physically the most difficult to cope with are the g-forces during
launch and return from space. These forces are the result of acceleration and
deceleration” [86].

B. Linear Effect
It seems that many dangerous forces have a linear effect on human health. The
greater the exposure, the greater the likely damage. That is certainly true of
acceleration and deceleration. Harrison (2001) contended that, “The faster the
acceleration, the more profound the effect on the human body” [87].

C. Acceleration Effects
Ruff (1961) warned of “the effects of acceleration” in a scientific paper published
before the era of spaceflight began [88]. Harrison (2001) summarized the effects
of acceleration; difficulty in breathing, impaired circulation, inability to move
arms and legs, compacted bladders, reduced consciousness and blackouts [89].

D. Deceleration Effects
Deceleration is similar to acceleration in that both involve rapid movement
punctuated by the cessation of movement. In a sense acceleration and deceleration
are bookends. “Rapid deceleration during reentry is especially stressful” for
spacefarers, Hall (1998) claimed [90].

E. Acceleration & Deceleration Effects


Dr. David Green is an expert in human and aerospace physiology at Kings
College. He suggested that the speeds associated with acceleration and
deceleration “could be an issue for some” [91]. Green noted, “It’s highly likely
you will feel sick or be sick and that’s a real concern. Going back to Earth,
everything will feel heavier. You could knock yourself unconscious” [92].

F. Empirical Findings
An important paper on this subject, “Preparing Space Tourists for the Sustained
Acceleration Forces Associated with Spaceflight,” was presented at the 2006
conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Byrne et al.
(2006) noted respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms associated with space travel.
150 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

When the human body is exposed to sustained acceleration the shape and function
of the respiratory system is degraded. A substantial increase in breathing effort,
degradation of the gas exchanging capacity of the lungs, and lessened overall lung
volume are consequences of acceleration. Respiratory inefficiency may occur,
characterized by a progressive reduction in blood-oxygen count [93].

There are cardiovascular consequences of acceleration and deceleration, too.


“Acceleration has been shown to affect the function of the heart, typically
increasing cardiac volume and disturbing the heart’s normal electrical activity to a
certain extent,” according to Byrne et al. [94].

One countermeasure for acceleration and deceleration is the centrifuge. Both the
Russian and American space programs have used centrifuges to familiarize
astronaut and cosmonaut candidates with these extreme g-forces [95]. And four
commercial space tourists have taken this training at the QinetiQ centrifuge in the
United Kingdom under an arrangement with Space Adventures, Ltd. [96].

A final point might be considered. The calculations showing that the human body
can withstand the rigors of acceleration and deceleration are based upon very
physically-fit young men and women. But Byrne et al. realized that the average
commercial space tourist would most likely exceed fifty, and “such individuals
would not possess the physical fitness exhibited by astronaut candidates studied in
the past” [97].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

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154 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 154-162

CHAPTER 15

Rocket Takeoff Risks


Abstract: The empirical rocket take-off record was examined in this chapter. A total of
31 takeoff problems was documented. Attempted but unsuccessful take-offs by
Americans, Soviets, Russians, French, Israelis and South Koreans were documented.
Private sector failed take-offs afflicted private firms like Ariannespace, STC, U.S.
Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, Space-X, Scaled Composites and others. Failed take-
offs in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s were documented.

Keywords: Alliant Techsystems, American, Ariannespace, Armadillo


Aerospace, Delta- III, French, French Guiana, Israel, Kennedy Space Center,
Scientific American, South Korea, Space Transportation Corporation, take-offs,
Titan-IV, Soviet, Rubicon I, U.S. Aerospace, Wallops Island, Virginia, X-Cup, X-
Cup Foundation.

1. INTRODUCTION

In the last chapter we learned about the inherent risks associated with rocket
transportation in general. But rocket travel is not really one monolithic process; in
fact, there are three distinct phases or parts of this mode of transportation. They
are take-off, spaceflight, and reentry.

These three aspects of space travel are independent of each other. In this chapter,
we will consider the most historically dangerous segment of rocket travel, the
take-off. More fatalities have occurred during reentry, but by far there have been
more accidents during take-off. The next chapter examines in detail the empirical
spaceflight safety record during both spaceflight and reentry.

2. FAILED TAKE-OFFS IN THE 1980s

Rocket science has progressively advanced from the pioneer days of Werner Von
Braun and James Goddard. Advances in any technological field may incur
casualties, and that has been true of rocket science. In the 1960s, there were at
least a half-dozen take-off accidents and mishaps world-wide, in government and
corporate rocket launches.

Emergency escape rockets were required to jettison the Soviet cosmonauts on


board the Soyuz T-10 capsule as the rocket exploded on the launchpad [1]. This
1983 incident was unknown in the West for some time due to Soviet censorship.
Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Rocket Takeoff Risks Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 155

On January 26, 1984, NASA experienced an embarrassing mishap. On the initial


launch of the space shuttle Discovery, “Technical glitches plagued the first launch
of the space shuttle Discovery,” according to Scientific American [2]. After two
failed launch attempts at lauuchpad 39A, “A fuel valve in one of Discovery’s
three main engines failed to open four seconds before launch. Liquid hydrogen
leaked onto the launchpad, lit on fire and burned for 12 minutes while the crew
evacuated the space shuttle” [3].

In mid-1985 a French Ariane rocket carrying an expensive commercial payload


failed to successfully send the satellite into orbit [4]. About a year later, in March
of 1986, the third stage of an Ariane rocket failed to ignite during launch from the
French Guiana launchsite [5]. ESA officials temporarily suspended further
Arianne flights pending identification and resolution of the difficulties [6].

The American space program suffered the Challenger disaster in January of 1986,
with the loss of all seven hands on board due to the take-off accident [7]. In May of
that same year, a U.S. Delta rocket carrying a weather satellite exploded seventy-one
seconds after lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center [8]. One month later, in June, an
Air Force rocket costing $65 million and conveying a secret intelligence satellite
crashed soon after take-off from the Vandenberg launch site in California [9].

NASA suffered a mishap in December of 1988. It is fair to say that this incident was
a harbinger of things to come, as it presaged the Columbia disaster. Just two flights
after the Challenger disaster another space shuttle crash very nearly took place.

“Insulation from the right solid rocket booster of space shuttle Atlantis fell out 85
seconds into the launch, and scraped tiles on the starboard side. The crew
inspected the shuttle’s undercarriage in space with a TV camera on a robotic arm.
After seeing the images, shuttle commander Robert Gibson thought he was ‘going
to die’ during atmospheric reentry, according to Spaceflight,” it was noted [10].
NASA Mission Control chose to have Atlantis attempt a normal reentry despite
the crew’s misgivings. “The extreme nature of the damage became fully apparent
once on the ground,” it was reported [11]. One tile was missing and a total of 700
had suffered serious damage. “The reentry even scorched sections of the orbiter’s
thin aluminum skin” [12].

3. FAILED TAKE-OFFS IN THE 1990s

There were not nearly as many launch difficulties during the 1990s. We will
consider the launch issues and instances from the 1990s of which I am aware. One
156 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

involved a French rocket, another five were American problems, and there was a
Chinese incident.

“Ariannespace had a costly failure of a new launcher in 1996,” according to


research published in Scientific American by Beardsley (1999) [13].

The remainder of the take-off problems in the 1990s to my knowledge were


American, with one prominent Chinese exception. Former American astronaut
Buzz Aldrin testified in 2001 before the House of Representatives Subcommittee
on Space and Aeronautics of the Committee on Science:

Between late summer 1998 and spring 1999, the United States
experienced three Titan-IV-related failures and two Delta III commercial
launch failures. The failure of three government missions coupled with
the failure of two commercial missions within the same time frame, again
highlighted the issue of reliability in our space launch systems and
sparked renewed concern in our ability to access space [14].

On Valentines Day, February 14, 1996, one of the most terrible spaceflight
accidents to date took place in China [15]. The Chinese Long March rocket failed
to launch successfully and crashed into a nearby village, which was devastated as
a result [16].

4. FAILED TAKE-OFFS IN THE 2000s

There were approximately a dozen launch incidents in the 1980s, and about half
that number in the next decade. Of course, there has been an increasing number of
launches over time, from the beginning of rocket transportation until today. It is
interesting that there should be twice as many take-off accidents in the 1980s
compared to the 1990s. Perhaps the post-Challenger global hiatus in rocket
activity explains this quantitative anomaly.

But the decade of the 2000s returned to the expected volume of rocket take-off
accidents. There were at least twenty-one such mishaps in the ten years between
2000 and 2009.

The Ariane 5ECA rocket exploded on December 11, 2002, within moments after
take-off from the launchpad located at Courou, French Guiana [17]. The maiden
launch of this rocket was beset with “a series of anomalies” [18]. These issues
included, at ninety-six seconds into take- off, “a drop in pressure of the cooling
Rocket Takeoff Risks Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 157

system for the vehicle’s Snecma SA-built Vulcain 2 main cryogenic engine.”
One-hundred and eighty-six seconds into the launch, “the rocket’s altitude was
incorrect and the vehicle began flying an erratic trajectory. At 456 seconds, the
autodestruct mechanism was activated and the Ariane was destroyed” [19].

The Space Transportation Company (STC) suffered a launch mishap on August 8,


2004. According to an FAA report, “The vehicle exploded shortly after leaving
the launch pad due to a rupture of one of its solid rocket motors” [20]. The
Rubicon 1 vehicle “exploded on ignition” in the vicinity of Queets, Washington
[21].

In October, 2005, an accident took place at Spaceport America, the still-under-


construction spaceport located near Upham, New Mexico. A flight by U.S.
Aerospace crashed during take-off [22]. Armadillo Aerospace suffered a take-off
problem at the Northrup Grumman Lunar Landing Challenge in 2005, after its
Pixel spacecraft “was damaged in a fall during launch” [23].

2006 also witnessed a pair of rocket take-off mishaps. Both of the accidents
involved American private sector firms. And one of the most significant players in
contemporary space tourism, Space-X, was involved.

The second annual X-Prize Cup ceremonies and related exposition was held in
Las Cruces, New Mexico in October, 2006. According to press reports, “Nearly
every launch was delayed by technical problems or air traffic, and X-Prize
Foundation hosts had to repeatedly ad lib as launches were counted down,
scrubbed, then counted down again” [24].

Space-X suffered a launch accident on March 24, 2006. The Falcon 1 ended its
maiden flight from Omelek Island, adjacent to Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific
Ocean [25]. The rocket caught on fire and fell back to Earth within seconds of lift-
off [26]. The failure review board blamed the incident on a corroded nut [27].

There was a half-dozen launch mishaps in 2007. Sea Launch’s Zenit3SL rocket
failed to take off on January 30 [28]. The rocket collapsed within seconds of
ignition, and both the rocket and payload were destroyed [29]. A reported
explosion at takeoff destroyed the SES New Skies NSS- 8 communication
satellite and caused significant damage to the Odyssey floating launch platform
[30].
158 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

A Russian-built Proton rocket failed to achieve orbit after launch in September of


2007 [31]. At Holloman Air Force Base in October, 2007, “a lunar lander
prototype toppled over near a concrete landing pad Saturday at the X-Prize Cup at
the Holloman Air and Space Expo” [32]. Finally, the Mojave Spaceport accident
suffered by Scaled Composites in July, 2007, resulted in three deaths during a
launch accident [33].

There were four rocket launch mishaps in 2008. On March 15, the AMC-14
telecommunications satellite “was placed into a bad orbit” by a Russian-made
Proton-M rocket. The incorrect orbital placement was attributed to “an
unexplained premature shutdown” of the Breeze-M upper stage. This was
reportedly the second Breeze-M launch failure in 25 months and the third overall
[34]. An Israeli satellite launch also missed its orbit in a mid-May launch [35].

SpaceX suffered its third launch failure of the Falcon 1 rocket in early August of
2008. The Falcon carried three small satellites; one, Trailblazer, was a
Department of Defense satellite, a second was called PRESat and was a miniature
laboratory, and a third (NanoSailD) involved deployment of a thin solar sail.
Despite the accident, SpaceX received a $20 million investment from The
Founders Fund [36].

SpaceX held a reception a week after the launch accident at the AIAA/Utah State
University Conference on Small Satellites. Company spokespersons said SpaceX
management “is remaining confident” because the corrections needed were
simple, “extend the time between engine shutdown and stage separation” [37].

“Leftover thrust after engine cutoff caused the first stage to fall back and hit the
second stage,” according to the SpaceX explanation of the accident. Founder Elon
Musk explained, “The problem could be easily fixed by increasing the timing
between the two steps. Engineers did not detect the problem during testing
because it was done at sea level” [38].

In mid-August of 2008 an experimental rocket manufactured by Alliant


Techsystems (ATK) for NASA was destroyed twenty-seven seconds into lift-off
[39]. The Wallops Island launch cost NASA at least $17 million and the two
satellites dedicated to hypersonic flight research were worth $11 million [40]. The
flight veered off course between 11,000 and 12,000 feet. ATK spokesperson Kent
Rominger commented that, “The accident was a very big disappointment, but not
a setback” [41]. In 2009 at least four instances of launch difficulties took place.
The initial take-off trouble afflicted NASA, and the unsuccessful launch of the
Rocket Takeoff Risks Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 159

Orbiting Carbon Observatory space satellite on February 24, 2009 [42]. The
rocket plummeted to Earth a few “minutes after it was launched” [43]. The launch
from Vandenburg AFB, California, involved a Taurus XL launch vehicle whose
fairing failed to separate during lift-off [44]. This instrument was intended to
facilitate the international campaign against global warming by measuring
atmospheric carbon dioxide [45].

SpaceX reported a rocket fire at its McGregor Testing Facility in February of


2009. The new SpaceX Merlin 1C rocket engine was being tested when a fuel fire
occurred. Spokesperson Lauren Dreyer commented, “Staff members followed the
facility’s safety response procedures to contain the fire, and there were no
injuries” [46].

A South Korean rocket was involved in a launch mishap in mid-August, 2009.


Seven minutes before the planned lift-off at the Naro Launch Center the launch
had to be cancelled [47]. The Daily Launch reported, “They had cancelled the
launching because of a problem in the automatic launching sequence, perhaps as a
result of a faulty high-pressure tank” [48]. Science Ministry official Lee Sang-
mok stated, “A high pressure tank that helps operate valves in the launch vehicle
may have been the problem” [49].

Earlier that year, in March of 2009, a UP Aerospace launch from Spaceport


America failed to successfully lift off with a variety of educational projects on
board. The payload was provided by New Mexican high school and college
students [50]. The rocket contained a Geiger counter, accelerometers, and
temperature and pressure sensors [51].

On August 24, 2011, a Russian Progress 44 cargo rocket crashed when the Soyuz
rocket failed shortly after takeoff [52]. The robotic spacecraft crashed in the Akai
region of Siberia [53]. The malfunction was traced to a gas generator in the
rocket’s third stage [54]. A spokesperson for Roscosmos, the Russian Federal
Space Agency, declared, “Members of the Emergency Commission have
determined the cause of the failure of the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage
engine. It is a malfunction in the engine’s gas generator” [55].

This accident had immediate consequences. Dunn (2011) reported, “Until officials
figure out what went wrong with Russia’s essential Soyuz rockets, there will be
no way to launch any more astronauts before the current (ISS) residents have to
leave in mid-November” [56]. The next planned space mission, on September 22,
2011, was scrubbed [57].
160 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

One of the most recent rocket launch mishaps took place in Russia. On July 3,
2012, a Proton-M rocket failed to successfully take off from the Baikonur
Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan [58]. Marder (2013) reported that, “a Russian Proton-
M rocket lost control, tipped over and crashed in a fiery ball over the Kazakh
desert on Tuesday, plumes of black and orange smoke could be seen hovering
ominously over the crash site” [59].

A Russian television account of the crash might be considered. A newscaster for


Rossiya-24-TV commented on the air, “Well something seems to be out of sorts,”
as the video showed the rocket wobbling and turning onto a horizontal heading.
Then the newscaster admitted, “Something is wrong. It appears this will be
catastrophic” [60].

On April 14, 2014, the launch of a SpaceX Dragon space capsule was cancelled
about an hour before takeoff [61]. A rocket fuel leak was the reported cause of the
delay [62]. The same flight was almost delayed because of “a critical computer
outage at the International Space Station” [63]. This equipment failure involved a
back-up computer located on the outside of the ISS, which “mysteriously failed to
work when activated Friday” [64]. A spacewalk was required to perform the
computer repair [65]. “These external command-routing computer boxes” are
referred to as a “multiplexer-demultiplexer,” according to NASA Flight Director
Brian Smith [66].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
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[2] “The 10 Most Dangerous Moments in Space Shuttle and Station History: Launch Pad Fire,” Scientific
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dangerous-moments-space-station-history. Accessed 27th Feb. 2014, p. 7.
[3] “Launch Pad,” p. 7.
[4] L.B.Taylor, Jr., Commercialization of Space. New York: Franklin Watts, 1987, p. 111.
[5] Taylor, Commercialization, p. 111.
[6] Taylor, Commercialization, p. 111.
[7] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 37.
[8] Taylor, Commercialization, p. 111.
Rocket Takeoff Risks Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 161

[9] Taylor, Commercialization, p. 111.


[10] “The 10 Most Dangerous Moments in Space Shuttle and Station History: Severe Tile Damage,”
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[11] “Severe Tile,” p. 5.
[12] “Severe Tile,” p. 5.
[13] T. Beardsley, “The Way to Go in Space,” Scientific American, February, 1999, p. 83.
[14] Unied States. B. Aldrin, “Space Tourism.” Hearings before the Subcommittee on Science and
Astronautics, Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives, p. 45, June 26, 2001.
[15] C. Philips, “Rocket Launches Are Dangerous to People Below Them. Russian and Chinese Launches
Endanger the People Below the Flight Path—Will They Accept That Forever?” Yahoo.com., January
8, 2002. [Online]. Available: http://voices.yahoo.com/rocket-launches-dangerous-people-below-
them-10788407. Accessed 27th Feb. 2014, p. 1.
[16] Philips, “Launches are Dangerous,” p. 1.
[17] “Arianespace’s Good Fortune,” Aerospace America, vol. 46, no. 5, p. 16, May, 2008.
[18] “Good Fortune,” Aerospace America, p. 16.
[19] “Good Fortune,” Aerospace America, p. 16.
[20] United States. Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S.
Department of Transportation, Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles and Emerging Markets.
February, 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 4.
[21] Office of Commercial Space Transportation, “Suborbital Reusable,” p. 4.
[22] A. Webb, “U.S. Aerospace Launch Success,” Albuquerque Journal, p C1, September 30, 2006.
[23] A. Webb, “Eyes on the Prize for X Prize Cup,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B4, October 11, 2006.
[24] A. Webb, “That Was Pretty Cool: Thousands of Space Enthusiasts Attend X-Prize Cup Events,”
Albuquerque Journal, p. A1, October 21, 2006.
[25] W.W. Wang, “Liquid Propulsion,” Aerospace America, vol. 44, no. 12, p. 66, December 2006.
[26] J.P. Douglas, and F. Newland, “Space Operation and Support,” Aerospace America. vol. 44, no. 12,
p. 91, December, 2006.
[27] B. Iannotta, “Turning Space Travel Into Tourism,” Aerospace America, vol. 44, no. 11, p. 38,
November 2006.
[28] “Maybe Next Time Around,” Space News, vol. 18, no. 36, p. 3, September 17, 2007.
[29] C. Ehrlich, “Space Transportation,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 12, p. 97, December 2007.
[30] M.A. Taverna, “Sea Launch to Fly Again by End of 2007,” Aviation Week, 2007. [Online]. Available:
http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=space&id=news.seal032707.x
ml. Accessed 12th Dec. 2013, p. 1.
[31] “Next Time,” Space News, p. 3.
[32] R. Romo, “Shooting for the Moon at Expo: Lunar Lander Competitors Vie for Prize,” Albuquerque
Journal, p. A1, October 7, 2007.
[33] W.W. Wang, “Liquid Propulsion,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 12, p. 87, December 2007.
[34] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Proton-M Failure Leaves Few Options for
Satellite Operators,” Daily Launch, March 25, 2008, p. 4.
[35] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Israeli Satellite Not in Orbit,” Daily Launch,
May 16, 2008, p. 1.
[36] American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Third SpaceX Launch Attempt Fails,” August
4, 2008, Daily Launch, p. 1.
[37] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Article Considers Future of SpaceX After
Failed Launch,” September 9, 2008, Daily Launch, p. 3.
[38] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Timing Issue Caused Falcon 1 Failure,” Daily
Launch, August 7, 2008, p. 3.
[39] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “NASA Loses Two Satellites in Failed
Experimental Launch,” Daily Launch, August 25, 2008, p. 1.
[40] AIAA, “NASA Loses,” p. 1.
[41] AIAA, “NASA Loses,” p. 1.
[42] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Rocket Carrying NASA Satellite Crashes
Minutes After Launch,” Daily Launch, February 25, 2009, p. 1.
[43] AIAA, “Rocket Carrying,” p. 1.
162 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[44] D.R. Dorr, “Changing Course in a Deepening Crisis,” Aerospace America, vol. 47, no. 4, p. 10, April
2009.
[45] Dorr, “Changing Course,” p. 10.
[46] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “SpaceX Looking Into Fire,” Daily Launch,
February 23, 2009, p. 4.
[47] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Faulty Tank May Have Caused Korean Launch
Scrub,” August 20, 2009, Daily Launch, p. 3.
[48] AIAA, “Korean Launch,” p. 3.
[49] AIAA, “Korean Launch,” p. 3.
[50] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Although Rocket Fails to Reach Orbit, Launch
Seen as a Success,” May 5, 2009, Daily Launch, p. 4.
[51] AIAA, “Rocket Fails,” p. 4.
[52] C. Moscowitz, “Report: Russia Identifies Cause of Rocket Launch Failure,” Space.com., August 30,
2011, p. 2.
[53] Moscowitz, “Report,” p. 3.
[54] Moscowitz, “Report,” p. 3.
[55] Moscowitz, “Report,” p. 3.
[56] M. Dunn, “Space Station Visit OK’d Despite Dead Computer,” Associated Press, Albuquerque
Journal, p. A3, March 4, 2014.
[57] Dunn, “Visit OK’d,” p. A3.
[58] AIAA, “Rocket Fails,” p. 4.
[59] J. Marder, “Russian Rocket Explosion Releases Toxic Fuel Cloud,” PBS Newshour. July 3, 2013, pp
1-2. 60] Marder, “Russian,” p. 2.
[61] “Leak Delays Launch to Space Station,” Albuquerque Journal, p. B4, April 14, 2013.
[62] “Leak Delays,” p. B4.
[63] Dunn, “Visit OK’d,” p. A3.
[64] Dunn, “Visit OK’d,” p. A3.
[65] “Space Station Supplies on Way,” Albuquerque Journal, p. D1, April 19, 2014.
[66] “Space Station,” p. D1.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 163-177 163

CHAPTER 16

In-Flight & Landing Accidents


Abstract: Space transportation involves three very different, mutually-exclusive types
of space activity; take-off, spaceflight travel, and landing. Take-offs were the subject of
the last chapter, and spaceflight and landings were discussed in this chapter. Ten
incidents and accidents were documented during spaceflight, while seven cases of bad
reentry and landing were documented. American, Chinese and Soviet accidents and
incidents were documented.

Keywords: Astronauts, Black Armadillo, CBS Evening News, Chang’e 1,


escape rockets, Federal Space Agency, hydrogen peroxide, Kashgar, Kosmos
2251 Series Satellite, landing, methanol, monopropellant, propellant, Qingdao,
reentry, solar wing, Soyuz 18, U.S. Strategic Command, Wall St. Journal.

1. INTRODUCTION

Travel to space occurs in three separate and independent stages; lift-off,


spaceflight and landing. The focus of this chapter is on the second and third of
those phases of space travel, spaceflight and landing. The space record to date
includes no fatalities during spaceflight, but it will be realized that reentry and
landings constitute a potentially deadly aspect of rocket travel.

2. IN-FLIGHT ACCIDENTS

There have been almost a dozen recorded spacecraft and rocket incidents and
accidents to the best of my knowledge. Each will be considered in this section,
and they will be documented as much as possible.

A. Gemini 8
This initial in-flight accident occurred in 1966. American astronauts Neil
Armstrong and David Scott “were seconds away from blacking out” in their
capsule [1]. A maneuvering thruster became stuck ‘on,’ so the duo was “rotating
at a dizzying rate” before they managed to shut down the thruster engine [2].

B. Soyuz 1
The inaugural flight of the Soyuz rocket system was marked by tragedy in 1967.
Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died when a malfunctioning parachute failed to

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
164 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

slow his descent, and his capsule struck the ground at about 140 k/h, or 90 miles
per hour [3]. Komarov “attempted a risky manual re-entry, after several earlier
failures forced an early end to the mission” [4].

C. Apollo XIII
This accident during spaceflight occurred to the American space program. The ill-
fated Apollo XIII flight in 1970 was stricken by an oxygen tank explosion. The
heroic crew was able to guide the crippled capsule back to Earth [5].

D. Soyuz 18
This 1975 accident plagued the Soviet Union space program. A series of
unforeseen mechanical events led to the crew plummeting to Earth in their vehicle
until a mere 192 km (119 miles) above the planet. Their lives were saved by
deployment of the emergency escape rockets [6].

E. 1990 Columbia Incident


In January of 1990 the space shuttle Columbia was dispatched to retrieve a
scientific project from space. But “communications noise garbled a state vector
sent by Mission Control. The spacecraft beamed back an incorrect confirmation to
Houston, and computers there flagged the error for review. A mission controller
looked at the data but inexplicably determined everything was fine and uploaded
them to Columbia.” The incorrect instructions made the spacecraft think it was
near the center of the Earth’s core, so it “fired its thrusters and began to spin about
every couple of minutes” [7].

F. 1997 MIR Fire


The Soviet space station Mir was the scene for this 1997 space accident. A three-
foot flame broke out from the oxygen generator, burning for fourteen minutes [8].
The three crew members were cut off from one of the two emergency escape
vehicles, but they donned oxygen masks and used fire extinguishers to put out the
fire [9].

G. Blue Origin 2011 Mishap


A brief post by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Blue Origin, notified the world of this
accident. An unmanned vehicle crashed during a test flight. “We lost the vehicle
at 45,000 feet,” Bezos announced in early September of 2013 [10].

 
In-Flight & Landing Accidents Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 165

H. Armadillo Aerospace
Armadillo tinkered with the fuel for its Black Armadillo rocket in 2004. A “mixed
monopropellant” consisting of methanol and a 50% hydrogen peroxide solution
was tested [11]. The second test of the prototype, in August of 2004, “failed when
the vehicle crashed after exhausting its propellant supply” [12].

I. Soyuz Loses Control


On October 16, 2004, a space crisis was barely averted. A Russian Soyuz
spacecraft was on final approach to the ISS. “Normally a flight computer and
docking system automatically line up and lock the Soyuz in place at the space
station. But as Chia’s spacecraft drew near the ISS, the Soyuz began to accelerate
instead of slow down,” according to Scientific American [13].

“All sorts of alarms were going off, and we started to yaw and lose sight of the
space station,” Chia recalled. The astronauts took manual control of their
spacecraft, stabilized the Soyuz and stopped it approximately 50 meters from the
space station [14]. The reaction of the crew reflected their assessment of the very
real danger they had confronted. “After we docked and had a moment to relax, the
danger of what happened really hit us. We could have collided, killed ourselves,
and maybe everyone on board the station” [15].

J. Space Weather Disaster Averted


A solar flare incident in 2005 turned a sunspot into a near-death scenario for
astronauts aboard the ISS. “On January 20, 2005, a giant sunspot exploded and
flung an x-class solar flare toward the Earth” [16].

“It was kind of eerie seeing radiation levels 10 times higher than they should be,
and there was nothing you could do about it. It wasn’t pleasant,” an astronaut
commented [17]. The ISS crew retreated to their highly-insulated radiation
bunkers every 90 minutes to minimize their potential excess radiation exposure
[18].

K. Proton M Explosion
A Russian rocket detonated in space on February 19, 2007. Young (2007)
reported, “A Russian rocket body has exploded accidentally, littering the skies
with an additional 1,000 pieces of space junk” [19].

 
166 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

The cause of the incident was not known or publicly disclosed. According to
Young, “Researchers are not yet certain what may have caused the Breeze-M to
explode. It could have been hit by a micrometeorite, or corrosion or mechanical
failure of the rocket body could have caused the fuel and oxidizer to come into
contact, leading to an explosion” [20].

L. NASA Solar Wing


A far different technology was involved in a 2007 accident at the International
Space Station. According to wire service reports, “A giant solar wing ripped as it
was being unfurled by the astronauts aboard the international space station on
Tuesday” [21]. Why didn’t they stop the operation once they noticed the tear? The
sun got in their eyes. Peggy Whitson, ISS commander, reported that the angle of
the sun prevented her and other astronauts from observing the 2.5 –foot long tear
quicker. Before they stopped the sail deployment, nearly 90 feet of the 115-foot
long sail was extended [22].

The timing of the accident was unfortunate. Mike Suffrendini, NASA space
station program manager, told the media that the mid-October incident could
interfere with the scheduled December flight of the shuttle Atlantis with a
European science laboratory [23].

The scale of the operation was imposing. Each solar array is about the length of a
football field, and all of the electricity for the ISS is supplied by this technology.
In this risky space procedure, “Mission Control engineered a daring repair starring
astronaut Scott Parazynski--a medical doctor. He ventured outside the space
station, clipped onto the end of the space station’s inspection boom (which was
itself attached to a robotic arm) and stitched up the rip with tools wrapped in tape
to prevent electrocution” [24].

“It was at the absolute limit we could reach out there, and we sent out our tallest
astronaut. He could barely reach it. For a moment, the entire space station hung in
the balance. It was pretty dramatic,” admitted mission commander Scott Hale
[25].

M. Chinese Lunar Crash


Did China attack the Moon? That was the question in late-February of 2009 when
the Chinese state media announced that the Chang’e 1 lunar probe had reached the
end of its sixteen-month mission [26]. The Associated Press reported that the
spacecraft “crashed into the Moon Sunday in a controlled collision” [27]. The

 
In-Flight & Landing Accidents Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 167

A.P. added that the mission “was under remote control by two observation and
control stations in east China’s Qingdao and Kashgar, a small city in northwest
China” [28].

N. Kosmos 2251 & Iridium Collision


One of the most significant space accidents to date took place in early February,
2009, when an obsolete Russian satellite collided with an Iridium satellite. Katie
Couric declared on the CBS Evening News that, “NASA says a Russian satellite
crashed into a U.S. commercial satellite that’s also used by the military. Both
were destroyed, and now there’s a massive cloud of debris expected to burn up
before reaching Earth” [29].

This was “the first-ever crash of its kind,” according to a media report [30]. The
Russian satellite “was out of control,” said Mark Matney, an orbital debris expert
at the NASA Johnson Space Center [31]. It was initially feared that the ISS would
be endangered, but another NASA debris authority, Nicholas Johnson, discounted
the danger as “a slight risk;” he thought that the Hubble Space Telescope and
Earth-observation satellites were in greater danger [32].

The Wall St. Journal reported that the event “could have implications for U.S.
space budgets and policy, because it comes amid a Pentagon campaign to increase
spending on systems to protect the U.S. high-tech space hardware” [33]. The
obsolete Russian Kosmos satellite “was being monitored by Pentagon
organizations that keep track of space debris, {but} Pentagon officials will face a
barrage of questions about how they missed such an impending collision with an
intact satellite,” noted Tim Farrar, a satellite consultant [34].

Attempts to quantify the amount of space debris generated by the collision


produced varied estimates. The New York Times suggested that, “many dozens, if
not hundreds” of pieces of space junk were created [35]. U.S. Air Force Brigadier
General Michael Carey, Deputy Director of Global Operations for the U.S.
Strategic Command, commented that initial radar tracking identified
approximately 600 pieces of debris [36].

The risk may have been greater than generally acknowledged. NASA
spokesperson John Yembrick conceded that, “The debris will continue to spread,
however, and potentially could force the station to make an avoidance maneuver
at some point” [37]. When asked about the proximity of NASA satellites to the
debris field, Yembrick noted, “About twenty are in orbits that would take them

 
168 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

close to the debris cloud, along with many hundreds of other satellites— nearly
1,000 currently in operation” [38].

We might consider a final aspect of this case. Nicholas Johnson, the


aforementioned NASA space debris authority, commented that he had checked a
public web site that lists the ten most likely space collisions each day. The
Kosmos/Iridium accident did not make the list [39].

O. ISS Space Debris Close Call


There have been several incidents when the ISS was endangered by space junk.
One such instance will be examined in detail, the March 13, 2009, case.
Aerospace trade publications and conventional general public media accounts
depicted the gravity of the situation.

“The near-hit of space junk Thursday was a warning shot fired across the bow of
the international space station, experts said. There’s more to come,” the A.P.
reported in its coverage of the March 2009 space story [40]. The A.P. narrative
about the suspenseful ten minutes is worth considering:

With less than an hour’s notice, the three astronauts were told they would
have to seek shelter in a Russian space capsule parked at the space station
in case a speeding piece of space junk hit Thursday. If it hit and they were
in the main part of the station, they would have only ten minutes of safety,
Mission Control told them. A hole in the space station could mean loss of
air, loss of pressure, and loss of life. The crew moved so fast that they
might have left their instruction manual on the other side of a closed hatch.
Inside the Soyuz, they waited for ten minutes, ready to flee to Earth if the
worst happened [41]. How serious was the situation in the Soyuz? “We
were watching it with bated breath,” admitted NASA. “We didn’t know
what was going to happen” [42]. NASA spokesperson Josh Byerly told the
media that the object in question was travelling at about 22,000 miles per
hour. The thin piece of debris was probably about 5 inches long, one source
estimated. Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell thought it
might be larger, up to a foot in length [43].

The NBC Evening News broadcast the news that the ISS crew spent eleven
minutes in their cosmic lifeboat, and that, “the grapefruit-sized piece of old rocket
motor floated safely by” [44]. The CBS version of the story had the five-inch

 
In-Flight & Landing Accidents Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 169

piece of debris moving at 22,000 miles per hour and missing the space station by
three miles [45].

NASA sources emphasized the seriousness of the situation. Mission Control


staffer Kathy Bolt noted, “It’s a low probability of a hit. However, the object is
rather large, based on what we can track.” Eugene Stansbury, NASA Orbital
Debris Program manager, observed that, “We do take it very seriously. And the
problem is getting worse because there’s more stuff up there” [46].

How often has space debris endangered ISS crew in the past? Borenstein (2009)
reported for the A.P. that this “near-hit” was “a warning shot,” based on the
frequency of past similar incidents. NASA’s Byerly said, “Station crews have
used Soyuz as a precaution five times because of debris.” But according to the
Washington Post, “This is only the second time astronauts have adjourned to an
escape craft for safety’s sake” [47].

“The unusual event offered a reminder that astronauts and spacecraft are
increasingly playing a nerve-jangling game of space debris dodgeball,” the
Washington Post suggested [48]. It is worth noting that NASA protocol mandates
that NASA take action if a space object is determined to enter a 15-square mile
zone around the ISS, the “red box” protective distance [49].

By March 17, NASA had given the crew of the ISS an unconditional “all-clear”
message. The space debris crisis, at least for the moment, had passed. In fact, the
space shuttle Atlantis was cleared to take off for the ISS after several delays. But,
as the Daily Launch reported, “We’re told the threat of orbital space debris may
force a slight detour in their flight” [50].

The culprit in this case was a motor part from a Soviet Kosmos 1275 military
satellite [51]. Odds of a collision between this debris and the ISS were put at 1 in
100,000 [52].

P. ISS Resupply Failure


In 2010, “An unmanned Russian space capsule carrying supplies to the
International Space Station failed in a docking attempt, Russian Mission Control
and NASA said Friday” [53]. The Russian Progress space vehicle can carry up to
two tons of food, water and other supplies [54]. Valery Lyndin, a spokesperson
for Russian Mission Control, “said only that the failure was due to an unspecified
technical problem. NASA said the failure was due to an antenna problem,”

 
170 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

suggested a media report. According to the Interfax/AVN news agency, space


station commander Alexander Skvortsov reported to Mission Control that the
progress capsule was “rotating uncontrollably” as it approached the ISS [55].

The consequences of the failed resupply mission were downplayed by the space
agencies. “None of the supplies were deemed necessary for the station’s
immediate survival and the outpost is well supplied,” remarked NASA flight
commentator Rob Novias [56].

Q. ISS Solar Power System Repair Incident


In 2011 a spacewalk to repair the ISS solar power system went awry, and the
consequences were unsettling if not catastrophic. Dunn (2011) noted, “A
spacewalking astronaut ran into trouble Sunday while trying to lubricate a joint in
the life-sustaining solar power system of the International Space Station, losing
one bolt and getting a washer stuck in a crevice” [57].

“Mike Fincke, one of NASA’s most experienced spacemen, had to settle for a
partial lube job, after the bolts holding down covers on the massive joint started
popping off unexpectedly,” the A.P. reported [58]. Fincke and fellow astronaut
Andrew Feustel were able to lubricate four of the six parts of the joint and
reinstall three of the four covers [59].

Another potential incident was avoided earlier in the same spacewalk. Because
ammonia is extremely hazardous in space, Fincke and Feustel “did their best to
avoid contaminating their spacesuits while replenishing the system with five
pounds of the substance. Some frozen ammonia flakes floated towards Feustel as
well as a small icy chunk, but he didn’t think any of it got him” [60].

R. 2011 Space Debris Incident


We have already examined the 2009 space debris incident. Two years later, a
similar scenario unfolded. “On June 28, the space station had its closest-ever
encounter with orbital junk, at about 250 meters away,” according to Scientific
American [61]. The report added, “The object was travelling at approximately
46,700 kph, forced six crew members on board the space station into two docked
Soyuz spacecraft ready for a quick escape” [62]. This was the first time the ISS
had been evacuated since the March 9, 2009 incident [63].

 
In-Flight & Landing Accidents Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 171

S. Orbital Science Corporation Software Glitch


The resupply of the ISS was impeded in 2013 when an Orbital Sciences
Corporation unmanned cargo ship failed to dock as planned. “Navigation system
troubles” were blamed for the two-day delay in arrival at the ISS [64]. The
Cygnus capsule carried 11,300 pounds of food and clothing, and the docking was
cancelled six hours before it was cancelled [65]. Differences in data format used
by the two spacecraft was thought to be the reason for the delay [66].

A few days later the Cygnus arrived with about a half-ton of “meals and special
treats for the astronauts” [67]. Dunn (2013) noted that the Orbital Science
resupply mission was the second by a commercial firm, following a SpaceX
delivery to the ISS in 2013 [68]. “A simple software solution” remedied the
navigational issues [69].

“It was just a very, very impressive job. I couldn’t be happier and more proud,”
remarked Alan Lindenmoyer, the NASA manager who administered the project [70].
Lindenmoyer added, “It’s certainly a relief and we’re all ready to celebrate” [71].

T. ISS Cooling System Repair Incident


The ISS cooling system malfunctioned at the end of 2013. According to media
reports, “The astronauts aboard the International Space Station dimmed the lights,
turned off unnecessary equipment and put off science work Thursday as NASA
scrambled to figure out what’s wrong with a key cooling unit” [72].

“One of two identical cooling loops shut down Wednesday when the line got too cold
because of a faulty valve. The system uses ammonia to dissipate heat from on-board
equipment,” one source suggested [73]. NASA Mission Control ordered a partial
powering-down, involving non-critical missions like the science experiments [74].

The initial implications of the cooling system mishap were not especially
dramatic. NASA spokespersons emphasized that, “the astronauts remained safe
and comfortable” [75].

A week before Christmas, 2013, it was reported that, “NASA has ordered a series
of urgent spacewalks to fix a broken cooling line at the International Space
Station, a massive repair job that could stretch to Christmas day” [76]. Astronaut
Rick Mastracchio tweeted from the ISS, “The next week will be busy with space
walks so not much tweeting from here” [77].

 
172 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

3. LANDING ACCIDENTS
A. 1967 Soviet Parachute Accident
The initial publicly-known Soviet space fatality occurred in 1967. This was the
death of Vladimir Komarov, which was discussed in the previous section. “A
malfunctioning parachute system” was blamed for the cosmonaut’s death [78].

B. 1971 Soyuz 11 Soviet Cabin Depressurization Accident


Four years later another lethal landing took place. Three Soviet Cosmonauts
(Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev and Vadislav Volkov) died when their
space capsule lost air pressure during reentry [79]. The accident occurred when
the cosmonaut’s Soyuz spacecraft disembarked from the Salyut 1 space station
[80]. When explosive bolts detonated to free the craft from the space station a
valve was jammed open by the shock of the explosions [81]. All of the air then
escaped from the Soyuz spacecraft [82].

C. Columbia Landing Incident


On December 8, 1983, the space shuttle Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force
Base in California. During the landing, “Hydrazine leaked from an auxiliary
power unit on the shuttle and caught fire---but no one at NASA knew about it
until the next day” [83]. It was not until post-flight inspection that technicians
detached the rear panel of the spacecraft and detected “the scorched area” [84].

When did the hydrazine leak occur, and what caused it? NASA concluded that,
“the fuel leaked in orbit but immediately froze” [85].

D. STS-51-D Landing Incident


Another landing accident took place approximately two years later. On April 19,
1985, the crew of STS-51-D suffered both a flat tire and brake failure [86]. U.S.
Senator Jake Garn was on board for the landing at Edwards Air Force Base [87].

E. The Columbia Disaster


The space shuttle Columbia disaster was one of the best-known incidents in the
American space program. Heat-resistant tiles had been dislodged during previous
flights and the Columbia and her crew of seven were lost when the shuttle caught
on fire and disintegrated during reentry [88].

 
In-Flight & Landing Accidents Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 173

F. Another Russian Incident


In October of 2005 there was a little-publicized problem with a Russian rocket
landing. “A cabin leak on reentry in October 2005, raises questions about the
Soyuz’ otherwise long reputation for reliability,” The Daily Launch reported [89].

G. 2007 Suboptimal Soyuz Landing


The experience was not unlike an extreme amusement park ride. A mechanical
object flew through the air, its terrified occupants unable to control their descent
and save their lives. This drama unfolded between the ISS and the Earth on
October 21, 2007.

“A technical glitch sent a Soyuz spacecraft on a wild ride home Sunday, forcing
Malaysia’s first space traveler and two Russian cosmonauts to endure eight times
the force of gravity before their capsule landed safely,” according to Ponomarev
(2007) [90]. Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency, told a
Moscow news conference that, “all three were fine, showing they were not injured
during the steeper-than-usual descent” [91]. Perminev conceded that there were “a
few tense moments” during the reentry [92].

The extreme deceleration and gravitational forces were not the only problem with
this landing. Indeed, they landed “more than 200 miles west of the designated
landing site.” The spacecraft containing Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin
and Oleg Kotov, along with Malaysian Sheikh Muszaphar Shokur, “veered off-
course and touched down at 6:36 a.m. EDT” [93]. Typical descents subject
spacefarers to four times’ the normal gravitational influence [94].

H. 2008 A Second Suboptimal Soyuz Landing


About half a year later the same thing happened again. A Soyuz spacecraft
carrying American Peggy Whitson, Russia Yuri Malenchenko and South Korean
So-yeon Yi “overshot its target in Kazakhstan by 295 miles.” It took twenty-five
minutes for the capsule to be located following what Russian officials referred to
as “a ballistic re-entry” [95].

This incident was not unprecedented. The Daily Launch reported, “Expedition 6
and Expedition 15 had similar ballistic landings” [96]. The A.P. recalled that, “It
was the second time in a row, and the third since 2003--that the Soyuz landing
went awry” [97].

 
174 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Federal Space Agency (FSA) director Perminev “blamed the Soyuz crew for not
informing Mission Control about the unusual descent” [98]. Another source
accepted the FSA explanation, “They missed their target because they changed
their landing plan without telling Mission Control, delaying rescuers” [99].

Whose fault was it? According to the Daily Launch, the Soyuz capsule
“automatically makes a ballistic reentry if its guidance system fails. Cosmonaut
Yuri Malenchenko confirmed that the craft automatically made the switch to
emergency entry system, but he could not say why” [100]. Malenchenko added,
“There was no action of the crew that led to this, time will tell what went wrong”
[101]. The crew was subjected to an estimated ten times’ the normal gravitational
pull. MSNBC space expert James Oberg suggested that, “The landing was
probably due to an error in the autopilot, not to a fault of the crew as attributed by
Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminev.”

Two Soyuz-based radio beacons and ground-based radar tracking all failed. The
Daily Launch revealed, “Like the previous landing of a Soyuz capsule, smoke
entered the cabin” [102].

I. 2013 Dream Chaser Suboptimal Landing


“A rough first landing” was experienced by the Dream Chaser, a smaller version
of the space shuttle constructed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation [103]. In a test
conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, a full-scale model of the unmanned craft
was dropped from an altitude of 12,500, “in a first free flight reminiscent of
NASA’s drop tests of the shuttle prototype Enterprise in the 1970s” [104].

Things went as planned until the very end of the demonstration. Then, “the left
landing gear deployed too late and the test vehicle skidded off the runway” [105].
Mark Sirangelo, the space systems chief, called the damage minor because the left
landing gear was still attached and the tire wasn’t even shredded. The crew cabin
was entirely unaffected, “astronauts would have been uninjured,” the primary
flight computer never stopped working, and “nothing critical was damaged”
[106].

The initial test flight “was a success despite the ending,” Sirangelo emphasized.
He told reporters in a teleconference that “the test vehicle will be repaired and
may fly again” [107].

 
In-Flight & Landing Accidents Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 175

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

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176 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[27] AIAA, “Planned Crash,” p. 4.


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[75] “Glitch,” Albuquerque Journal, p. A3.


[76] “Urgent Spacewalks to Repair Bad Valve,” Albuquerque Journal, p. C8, December 18, 2009.
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[90] S. Ponomarev, “Soyuz has Rough Landing. Glitch Caused a Steeper Descent,” Associated Press,
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[103] M. Dunn, “Mini Space Shuttle Has Rough Landing. Dream Chaser Would Carry Astronauts to and
from Space Station,” Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p. A5, October 23, 2013.
[104] Dunn, “Rough Landing,” p. A5.
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178 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 178-189

CHAPTER 17

Space Saturation
Abstract: Unlike most chapters, whose content is mutually exclusive to that contained
elsewhere in the same book, there was intentional redundancy between some of the
material in this chapter and previous chapters. The reason is that both satellites and
space debris (each the subject of a previous chapter), were deemed individual and
independent risks to those residing on the Earth and spacefarers. But for the purposes of
the present chapter, both are also important factors in space saturation. In this chapter
space saturation was defined and exemplified. We learned about the linear nature of
space saturation. The constant reality of cosmic collisions was explained, exemplified
and quantified. Collisions involving space satellites, asteroids, comets, planets,
centaurs, galaxies and other space bodies were described. The past, present and future
incidence of collisions was estimated.

Keywords: Air traffic control, Canadian Space Society, Center for Space
Standards and Innovation, Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004,
Deep Impact Space Probe, Demonstration of Autonomous Rendevouz
Technology, Hirayama family, International Space University, Jodrell Bank
Observatory, Kessler syndrome, Late Heavy Bombardment, Luna 15, Mishap
Investigation Board, Radarsat satellites, SpaceShip Two, space saturation, Tempel
1, WhiteKnight Two, Xinhua News Agency.

1. INTRODUCTION

This chapter differs from the others in this book in one respect. There is some
repetition of subject matter between this chapter on space saturation and two
previous chapters. Space saturation includes two topics, space debris and
satellites, that are in and of themselves important independent subjects. But they
are also important factors in space saturation; hence, their inclusion in this
chapter.

The simple fact is that space is already saturated. There are too many artificial,
man-made satellites in the immediate Earth space environment. And of course
they are not evenly distributed, but rather clustered in the most commercially and
technologically desired locations, including the so-called geosynchronous orbit.

The cosmic wild card, the joker in the deck of cards, is represented by collisions.
Not only are collisions prima facie evidence that space is saturated, they
exacerbate the saturation problem by creating new and erratic orbits. Collisions

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Space Saturation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 179

between individual space objects and even entire galaxies will be examined. But
first we will review what we have already learned about space debris and
satellites.

2. SPACE DEBRIS

Chapter five of this book is entitled, “Space Debris.” Ordinarily the content of a
previous chapter would not be appropriate in another chapter because that would
be redundant.

However, in this case that redundancy might be a good thing. Space debris is, all
by itself, a phenomenon of considerable intrinsic importance. So much junk has
accumulated in space around the Earth that the risk posed to spacefarers and
Earth-dwellers is not inconsiderable, and it is steadily increasing.

In this chapter on space saturation space debris is an important subfactor. Three


main variables in space saturation will be identified, including space debris,
satellites and collisions. It is necessary to recall the significance of the quantity
and quality of the space debris problem to fully comprehend the significance of
space saturation.

Ten main conclusions about space debris were advanced in an earlier chapter.
While these concepts were explained and documented in detail previously, it is
worth bearing them in mind now as we contemplate the concept of space
saturation. That is because space is already saturated, in large part because of
space debris. These included:

A. Space Debris Poses a Substantial Risk to Earth Environment


In a sense this initial generalization about space debris tells the entire story. The
consensus of sources concluded that the immediate Earth environment is
significantly endangered by the presence of space junk.

B. Space Debris Falls to Earth


Natural space objects tend to disintegrate slowly over time, sometimes not so
slowly in the case of Solar-skipping comets. One of two things will happen to
space debris—it will slowly disintegrate over time as it sojourns through space or
it will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. Man-made space junk is oftentimes more
resilient than natural space junk.

 
180 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

C. Space Debris Poses the Greatest Risk to Space Assets


Commercial space development began with the creation of the heavy-traffic
geostationary orbit. Commercial satellites have proliferated in space, as have
other assets of national governments, universities and academic groups, and
private sector firms. It is widely accepted that at the present time space debris
poses a greater risk to space assets than any forces of nature.

D. Space Debris Endangers Space Objects


When people travel they bring their things with them. Things like housing and
vehicles and machines and technology. Anything can be struck by space debris
ranging in size from an inch or a centimeter to yards or meters in size.

E. Space Debris Has Threatened the International Space Station


The ISS is the Earth-orbiting station used in scientific and space operations
procedures. It has been evacuated for the safety of the astronaut crew on more
than one occasion.

F. Space Debris Endangers Spaceships


Space assets are expensive and space transportation is the primary driving factor
in that expense. That is why space debris could be so destructive in the age of
commercial space development, since a broken rocket or spaceship loses its value.
Space debris is believed to be the greatest risk to spaceship safety.

G. Space Debris is a Rising Policymaker Concern


NASA and other national space programs have long been concerned with space
debris, as have international space organizations like the ESA. But it appears from
media reports and trade publication articles that space debris policymaker concern
is currently at a relatively considerable level.

H. Space Debris Represents a Growing Risk


Space debris is exacerbated by the shortsighted and foolish acts of people.
Deliberate acts undertaken by national governments have resulted in the creation
of tens of thousands of pieces of new space junk. Added to the existing supply,
the result is that space debris constitutes a growing risk to spacefarers.

 
Space Saturation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 181

I. Space Debris-Caused Disaster is Inevitable


The basic problem is really supply and demand. If we could distribute space junk
evenly throughout the universe, we could accommodate every bit of it and much
more. But the supply of a certain place in space may be exceeded by the demand
for that specific location at a specific point in time, and a space collision between
space debris and any commercial space asset would be a worst-case event by most
standards.

J. Quantification of Space Debris


In the chapter on space debris a quantification of the incidence of space debris
was presented. Numerous sources were cited with a variety of different estimates
and counts of space debris items. At this point, a tabular version of this
information might be most helpful. See Table 1.
Table 1: Space Debris Estimates

Number of Amount of Space Date Source


Estimate Debris
1) “Thousands” 2002 Harrison
2) 2700 discarded satellites 2006 Tiron
3) 3500 rocket stages, 2006 Angelo
5,500 smaller items
4) 100,000 sugar cube- 2006 Asimov
sized items
5) 10,000 /10 cm; 2007 Aerospace America
600,000/1 cm
6) 12,000 2008 Rice U; Daily Launch
7) 19,000 by U.S. military 2008 Daily Launch
8) 11,000/1 cm;100,000/1 2010 NASA
cm
9) 22,000 big enough to 2011 Associated Press
track
10) 23,000 tracked by U.S. 2013 Ransom
Surveillance Network
11) 9,000 large pieces 2014 Asimov

3. SATELLITES

There was a chapter on satellites previously in this book. Just like space debris,
satellites have themselves have become an important aspect of the Earth space

 
182 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

environment. A half-dozen important conclusions from the satellite chapter might


collectively provide a valuable context useful in better understanding space
saturation.

A. Importance of Satellites
They are an integral aspect of the national infrastructure. Satellites facilitate a
variety of important modern services, including the provision of vital weather
data, the transmission of commercial information and the attainment of military
functions. Much of the information in the Information Age appears to be routed
through space.

B. Quantification of the Number of Satellites


No one really knows how many satellites there are in space now, nor how many
there have been. Fragmented national jurisdictions, governmental secrecy and
differences between public and private sector launches have combined to obscure
the true volume of satellite traffic.

One source mentioned a ballpark estimate of about 900 functioning satellites [1].
Another estimate only identified about 300 operating satellites [2]. The
Associated Press quantified the total number of satellites at 6,600 all-time, with
approximately 3,600 still in orbit [3].

C. Increasing Number of Satellites


There is already a substantial number of satellites in orbit. It was suggested that
there are plans for new satellites for a variety of clients, including academic,
scientific, commercial and military purposes.

D. Geosynchronous Orbit
In 1957 Willy Ley postulated the existence of the geosynchronous orbit. By the
1970s nearly half of the Earth-orbiting satellites were nestled in geosynch orbits
[4].

E. Saturation of Geosynchronous Orbit


The geosynch orbit has long been prime real estate for commercial satellites.
Warnings were eloquently issued and unceremoniously ignored in 1978 about
geosynch orbital saturation [5].

 
Space Saturation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 183

F. Satellites Crash to Earth


Occasionally obsolete satellites crash to Earth. When publicized in advance and if
the reentry occurs in a populated area, such satellite crashes can be rather dramatic
events. Most reentry incidents, however, occur over the oceans or in uninhabited
areas and never come to our attention.

4. COLLISIONS

The recent history of the Milky Way has been characterized by collisions. Man-
made space objects like satellites and space stations come into close proximity
with other artificial objects, and they also come into contact with natural space
objects like comets, centaurs, asteroids, planets and even entire galaxies.
Collisions are nature’s way of documenting the existence of space saturation.

A. Satellite Collisions
Satellite collisions have garnered substantial publicity in the past. For instance, on
April 15, 2005, a NASA spacecraft with the lengthy name, Demonstration of
Autonomous Rendezvouz Technology, “collided with the intended rendezvouz
satellite” [6]. The Mishap Investigation Board attributed the collision to a
combination of “incorrect onboard navigation information” and “a repeated
pattern of excessive thruster firings” [7].

Another noteworthy space collision occurred as an international incident between


Russia and the United States. A defunct Kosmos satellite collided with an
American Iridium commercial satellite. Extensive mutual-blaming and related
recriminations and rhetoric followed. Igor Lisov, who was called “a prominent
Russian space expert” by the Associated Press, “suggested NASA fell down on
the job by not warning of the collision” [8]. A response was issued by Iridium
spokeswoman Elizabeth Mailander, who asserted that the Iridium satellite could
have been moved to a safer orbit “if given a precise warning but the company
received none” [9]. “The Pentagon acknowledged Thursday that it did not
anticipate the accidental collision,” the Daily Launch reported [10]. This admitted
space surveillance deficiency stimulated substantial public reaction, comment and
criticism.

This collision, like any space accident, might cause substantial space danger in the
future. ABC News reported, “And given this new debris, the vice chairman of the
joint chiefs of staff said today that countries with satellites will now have to play,
quote, dodge ball for decades to come” [11]. In the immediate aftermath of the

 
184 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

collision, the danger level for the occupants of the ISS was determined to be
“elevated,” but other NASA assets were in greater danger, “NASA’s Earth-
observing satellites orbit at an altitude which is not far from the altitude of the
collision. They are of the highest concern” [12].

Why was there insufficient space for the two satellites to co-exist? Was the only
factor the decaying orbit of the Russian space satellite? BBC News reported on
“the growing importance of monitoring objects in orbit,” and concluded that,
“there are still significant capability gaps in current systems.” One such gap—
“Information on the position of debris in space is only approximate, not exact”
[13].

The New Scientist reported that conventional “satellite crash prediction is plagued
with uncertainty.” T.J. Kelso, an aerospace industry analyst, used public Pentagon
space debris data and determined that the two space objects should have had
approximately 584 meters of clearance between their orbits [14].

B. Asteroid Collision
Asteroid collisions are not uncommon in the universe. Darling (2008) observed
that the Hirayama families of asteroids originated from asteroid collisions.
Asteroids frequently have a pitted and pockmarked-like surface, due to a legacy of
repeated asteroid collisions [15].

C. Comet & Satellite Collision


The Deep Impact Space Probe was dispatched to deep space by NASA tasked
with observing and exploring comets. On July 3, 2005, it collided with Comet
Tempel 1. The collision occurred in a galaxy forty-two million light years away
[16].

D. Spacecraft & the Moon


A Soviet-era Luna 12 spacecraft “orbited the Moon and crash-landed onto its
surface” on July 21, 2009 [17]. It appeared that the spacecraft was attempting to
obtain surface soil samples moments prior to the crash [18].

E. Collisions Endanger Spacecraft


The possibility of collisions leading to a series of other collisions remains a
frightening possible worst-case scenario for space safety experts and space

 
Space Saturation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 185

policymakers. The 2009 satellite collision between the Iridium and Kosmos space
objects highlighted these safety concerns.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Iridium/Kosmos crash was “the ninth
significant crack- up in two years” and was capable of “fostering a chain reaction
of collisions that puts billions of dollars of spacecraft and manned space flight at
risk” [19]. The Center for Space Standards and Innovation asserted, “satellites and
debris pass within five miles of each other about 1,000 times a day” [20].

F. Kessler Syndrome/Effect
A recent Washington Post feature analysis of the significance of space trash and
the role of space debris in space saturation is worth our consideration:

Space is getting awfully messy. The amount of debris in Earth’s orbit


keeps multiplying each year, damaging satellites and putting astronauts
in harm’s way. If the problem gets severe enough, it could eventually
make low-Earth orbit unusable. Scientists have known about the space
trash problem since the 1970s. Humans have placed thousands of objects
into orbit since Sputnik. As pieces collide with each other at high speeds
and shatter, they create more debris. Repeat until space is saturated with
high-flying junk [21]. That perspective on space debris risks allows us to
appreciate the enormity of the danger involved. And the special worst-
case scenario known as Kessler’s syndrome or the Kessler effect. This
syndrome recognizes that the current relatively orderly nature of our
galaxy might not last.

Plumer (2013) described the Kessler syndrome, “The nightmare scenario is a


cascade of collisions that becomes unstoppable. Metal shards would start
destroying satellites, which would create more debris, until low-Earth orbit
became unusable. This is known as the Kessler syndrome, named after NASA
astrophysicist Donald Kessler, who predicted the possibility in 1978” [22].

G. Galaxy Collisions
Even galaxies collide! Galaxies are relatively large universal entities, and their
collisions are accordingly atypical compared to their smaller Solar System peers.

“The most imminent threat facing ordinary galaxies like the Milky Way is not the
death of their constituent stars, but rather a disruptive collision with another
galaxy,” Adams and Laughlin (1999) suggested [23]. They added that our galaxy,

 
186 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

the Milky Way, appeared to be destined “to experience a galactic collision,. in the
relatively near future” with our celestial neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy [24].

Plait (2008) corroborated much of this speculative science. He agreed that the
Andromeda galaxy would be a likely galaxy with which to collide, because it is
only about 2.5 million light-years away [25]. And Plait (2008) added that the two
galaxies are approaching each other at approximately 120 miles per second [26].

H. Brown Dwarf Stars Collision


Collisions between so-called brown-dwarf stars are relatively infrequent yet
cosmically- important astronomical events. Adams and Laughlin noted, “The rare
direct collisions between dead stellar remnants provide moments of extraordinary
excitement” because “these collisions can produced ordinary new stars, strange
new types of stars and spectacular explosions” [27].

Brown dwarf stars have considerable strategic importance in the universe. They
contain most of the remaining hydrogen [28]. And these “collisions can also
create new planets” [29]. Even new solar systems might result [30].

I. Significance of Past Collisions


An unorthodox perspective on cosmic collisions was contended by Berkowitz
(2012). Berkowitz saw collisions as typical and ordinary, not atypical and
unusual, astronomical activity. “Rather than anomalies, cosmic collisions are the
nature of the Solar System development, and the Late Heavy Bombardment was
the tail end, of this formative process” [31].

J. Significance of Current Collisions


At the present time in the early years of the twenty-first century, how significant
is the incidence of cosmic collisions? Adams and Laughlin (1999) provided their
opinion, “Comets and asteroids are known to collide with planets on a regular
basis,” they suggested [32].

K. Significance of Future Collisions


What about the future of collisions in the Milky Way and the universe? How
likely are future collisions? Again, the informed answer from the scientific
community is not necessarily a positive or reassuring one. According to Adams
and Laughlin (1999), “The long-term prospects for planets in general and Earth in
particular, is thus rather bleak. During the near term, planets will be pummeled by

 
Space Saturation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 187

comets and asteroids, which cause global climactic change and general
cataclysmic destruction” [33].

5. TRAFFIC VOLUME & SPACE SATURATION

Thusfar in this chapter on space saturation we have examined variables that are
already at work in the cosmos affecting the degree of space congestion. But there
remains a salient variable to factor into our understanding of space saturation,
somewhat of a future variable. What will be the consequences of a developing and
then robust space tourism industry on space saturation?

A. Space Traffic Control is Needed


James W. Canan asked George C. Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial
Space Transportation at the FAA, “Back to the FAA role, will there be space
traffic controllers just as there are air traffic controllers?” Nield replied, “That’s
quite likely. My office is already working with other folks in the FAA about
traffic control, because even now, when you go from the ground into space you’re
going through the national airspace system, so we need to make sure there aren’t
any aircraft flying in that area” [34].

B. Threshold Exists for Space Saturation Problems


At the present time, as this chapter was being written in mid-February of 2014,
there have been no space tourism flights yet, except for those hosted by the
Russian space program. No Virgin Galactic flights yet.

When commercial spaceflight commences it will be on a relatively small scale


initially, until sufficient operational experience persuades others to sign up for this
cosmic tourism opportunity. In time, a limited flight schedule might give way to a
more ambitious schedule, if warranted by operational performance.

There will be a threshold. At a certain point in the development of the commercial


space tourism industry, there will be a sufficient number of flights to result in
additional space saturation. As O’Neil et al. (1998) pointed out, “Very many more
rocket launches will heighten concern” [35].

C. Hundreds of Launches Possible


“It is quite likely that in the next three to five years we will see a number of
companies conducting hundreds of launches,” FAA administrator Nield claimed

 
188 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[36]. Later in the same interview Nield remarked that, “It will grow and develop.
We will see hundreds of flights operating regularly” [37]. Diamandis (2000) also
visualized, “Rather than eight shuttle flights per year, there could be hundreds of
tourism flights” [38].

D. Daily Flights
There have been predictions of the expected initiation of commercial space
tourism for many years. As far back as the 1950’s experts have declared when
regular space tourism will be available. There have also been numerous estimates
of when daily space tourism will begin. David (2009) reported that Virgin
Galactic was planning on offering “up to four daily spaceflights” [39].

E. Thousands of Passengers Daily


Space tourism market demand surveys over the years have consistently identified
a substantial and enthusiastic potential market for space tourism services. A
Master’s Thesis written at The International Space University by Anders
Lindskold (1979) predicted, “There can be hundreds of thousands of space
tourists flying every year” [40].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] D.K. Publications, Space: A Visual Analysis. New York: D.K. Publications, 2010, p. 78.
[2] M. Caceres, “ASATS: Bad for Business,” Aerospace America, vol. 45, no. 4, p. 18, April, 2007.
[3] D.K. Publications, Space, p. 78.
[4] D. Rising, “Satellite Hits Atlantic This Time. European Space Agency Says No Known Damage was
Caused,” Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p. C3, November 12, 2013.
[5] T.A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns: A Bold New Prospectus for Human Living in Space.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1978, p. 64.
[6] D.J. Clancy, J.N. Granda, and A.P. Bukley, “Guidance, Navigation and Control,” Aerospace America,
vol. 44, no. 12, p. 15, December, 2006.
[7] Clancy, Granda and Bukley, “Guidance,” p. 15.
[8] American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Parties Debating Who is to Blame for Satellite
Crash,” Daily Launch, February 13, 2009, p. 3.
[9] AIAA, “Parties Debating,” p. 3.
[10] AIAA, “Parties Debating,” p. 3.

 
Space Saturation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 189

[11] AIAA, “Parties Debating,” p. 3.


[12] AIAA, “Parties Debating,” p. 3.
[13] AIAA, “Parties Debating,” p. 4.
[14] AIAA, “Parties Debating,” p. 4.
[15] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zones of
Avoidance. New York: John Wilde and Sons, 2004, p. 40.
[16] D. Levy, Deep Sky Objects. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2005, p. 218.
[17] American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Luna 15 Crashed Hours Before Apollo 11
Launch.” Daily Launch, July 6, 2009, p. 4.
[18] AIAA, “Luna 15,” p. 4.
[19] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Satellite Collision Putting Satellites, Shuttle
Flights at Risk,” Daily Launch, February 27, 2009, p. 3.
[20] AIAA, “At Risk,” p. 3.
[21] B. Plumer, “Users of Space Must Split the Cleaning Bill,”Washington Post. Reprinted in the
Albuquerque Journal, p. A9, October 28, 2013.
[22] Plumer, “Cleaning Bill,” p. A9.
[23] F. Adams, and G. Loughlin, The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity. New York:
The Free Press, 1999, p. 83.
[24] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, pp. 83-5.
[25] P. Plait, Death From the Skies. New York: Viking Press, 2008, p. 253.
[26] Plait, Death, pp. 253-5.
[27] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, p. 88.
[28] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, p. 88.
[29] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, p. 88.
[30] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, p. 88.
[31] J. Berkowitz, The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origins in the Stars. Amherst, New
York: Prometheus Books, Inc., 2012, p. 232.
[32] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, p. xvii.
[33] Adams and Loughlin, Five Ages, p. 87.
[34] J.W. Canan, “Conversations with George C. Nield,” Aerospace America, vol. 47, no. 1, p. 19.
[35] D. O’Neil, I. Bekey, J. Mankins, T.F. Rogers, and E.W. Stallmer, Volume One: Executive Summary,
NASA/STA, NP-1998-03-11-MSFC, 1998. [Online]. Available:
http://www.spacefuture.com/pr/archive/general_public_space_travel_and-tourism.shtml. Accessed 4th
Jan. 2014, p. 13.
[36] Canan, “George C. Nield,” p. 17.
[37] Canan, “George C. Nield,” p. 18.
[38] P.H. Diamandis, “X-Prize,” Architectural Digest, vol. 70, no. 2, p. 35, March 2000.
[39] L. David, “Taking Wing: Liftoff for Public Space Travel,” Aerospace America, vol. 47, no. 2, p. 27,
February, 2009.
[40] A. Lindskold, “Space Tourism and its Effects on Space Commercialization,” M.A. Thesis,
International Space University, 1979.

 
UNIT III: HEALTH CONSEQUENCES
190 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 190-202

CHAPTER 18

Sleep Deprivation
Abstract: Sleep issues in space were the subject of this chapter. Circadian rhythms
were described and discussed, and their importance to sleep in space explained. Related
topics chronobiology and body clocks were similarly also covered. The contemporary
space sleeping accommodations were explored, and the fact that spacefarers sleep in
shifts was noted. Astronauts are supposed to get eight hours of sleep nightly, but the
mean average is probably closer to 6.5 hours. The task and behavioral consequences of
sleep deprivation were discussed, and the fact that astronauts frequently suffer insomnia
was documented. Solutions to sleep deprivation were assessed, and the Mission Control
wake-up call documented.

Keywords: Biological clock, Bloomberg News, Center for Chronobiology,


chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Discovery Channel, enriched light, fatigue,
insomnia, Institute for Biomedical Research, melatonin, moonlight, Mars
Exploration Rover Mission, National Space Biomedicine Research Institute, Russian
Academy of Science, sleep deprivation, Thomas Jefferson University, Velcro.

1. INTRODUCTION

Sleep is a critical human function, a libido element and an imperative of good


health. Sleep deprivation is a serious medical issue with substantial health and
task performance implications. Fatigued spacefarers are accidents waiting to
happen. And an environment as dangerous as outer space is no place for bleary-
eyed and tired technicians.

This chapter orients us to the main issues involved in the subject of space sleep. We
will note that spacefarers do not receive as much sleep as the standard requires, and
that insomnia is a typical problem. Sleep deprivation is a common problem, and
there is a variety of health and task competence consequences as a result. The
current space sleep system is described. The varied causes of sleep space
dysfunction are examined, and a number of proposed solutions are considered.

2. CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
A. Definition of Circadian Rhythm
“The Circadian rhythm is defined as the master clock that regulates a host of
biological functions. They regulate human behavior in unison with their
environment. On Earth, the twenty- four hour cycle and roughly equal timing of
Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Sleep Deprivation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 191

its day and night components impacts on everyday behaviors such as feeding and
sleeping patterns,” according to research presented to the American Institute of
Aeronautics and Astronautics [1].

B. Importance of Circadian Rhythm


Pass (2008) has described the vital role played by Circadian rhythms in the health
and well-being of spacefarers:

Consistent Circadian rhythms daily have proven important to everyday


life. Once space travelers leave Earth, they cannot rely on the twenty-
four hour cycle that regulates their biology. Most human beings cannot
perform as well when their twenty-four hour clock is disrupted.
Accidents increase and attention to detail decreases, including the
interpretation of reality such as reports and computer monitoring
information. This can become disastrous in a space habitat environment
controlled by computers that require constant monitoring by human
operators. Ongoing or unpredictable effects akin to jet lag can
significantly compromise work performance and potentially endanger a
spaceflight mission at a critical moment, for example [2]. We might
consider another explanation of circadian rhythms:

The name circadian comes from the Latin circa, meaning “approximately,” and
diem or dies, “day;” thus, the word means “about one day”. Examples of human
health issues related to circadian rhythms—biological oscillations in minutes,
hours and days in activity that recur with a period of “about one day”—are the
problems associated with jet lag and shift work, Seasonal Affect Disorder, and
time-of-day differences in response to medications and treatments [3]. American
astronaut Jerry Linenger realized the implications of Circadian rhythms on his
sleep behavior, “I lost my sense of day and night. Every 45 minutes, light dark,
light dark. So biorhythms are totally out of whack” [4].

3. CHRONOBIOLOGY

There is an academic specialization of relevance to this study known as


chronobiology. The Center for Chronobiology at the University of California at
San Diego (UCSD) defined this field in this manner:

Chronobiology is the biology of time, or the study of internal biological


clocks. Biological clocks are found at all levels in living organisms. They

 
192 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

range from oscillations found in nerve cells on the millisecond scale to


oscillations in minutes, hours, days and years in a variety of organisms
and tissues. Although the commonly used phrase, “your biological clock
is ticking” relates to the window of years for becoming parents, many
clocks are found in humans, such as the time to puberty, to menopause,
and aging “clocks” [5].

What is the intrinsic content or subject matter of chronobiology? Is it significant?


The UCSD Center for Chronobiology offered this perspective, “The clinical and
medical relevance of chronobiology and Circadian systems continues to grow in
importance in shaping medical treatments, guiding research, providing new
targets for drug development and yielding insight into the inter-relatedness of
various disease processes and Circadian rhythms” [6].

4. BIOLOGICAL CLOCKS

Research being conducted by neuroscience professor George C. Brainerd at


Thomas Jefferson University has shed light on the role of light in biological
clocks. Avril (2012) noted that, “Light plays a powerful role in regulating our
various biological clocks. Changes in light exposure can affect sleep, digestion,
creative performance and mood” [7].

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is a prominent and


respected institutional leader in the space biology field. NSBRI (2010) suggested
that spacefarers “will have to switch their ‘body clocks’ from the Earth daylight
cycle to that of their destination. Scientists hope to help the crews increase their
alertness and reduce performance errors” [8].

Pass (2008) explained how the terrestrial nature of human body clocks becomes
adversely affected in space, “Human beings evolved on Earth, of course. As such,
the rhythms associated with our biological-clock have adapted to the terrestrial
environment. The body’s adjustments to new environmental conditions presented
by space environments causes disruptive alterations as it attempts to find a new
rhythm cycle” [9].

5. LESS SLEEP IN SPACE

Space is not for sleepyheads. Unless, that is, they are space tourists and not
working crew members of a space mission. By all accounts, astronauts and other
space sojourners to date have reported a dearth of sleep.

 
Sleep Deprivation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 193

NASA scientists monitored the sleep activity of astronaut Jerry Linenger during
his 1997 space mission. They studied three two-week periods, one apiece in the
beginning, middle and end of his time in space. “The study showed that after three
months in orbit Linenger slept less soundly and for less time than he did on Earth.
His internal clock appeared to get confused in space” [10].

“Aboard the station, astronauts average as little as six hours of sleep during a 24-
hour period, even though they are allotted 8.5 hours,” it was reported in 2012
[11]. An article in Psychology Today observed, “Previous research indicates that
sleep duration on flights may be short—about 6.5 hours per day with reduced
subjective quality of sleep. Long duration flights of more than three months are
especially challenging” [12].

“Sleep can be difficult to find from time to time,” according to an online source. It
added, “Much like on Earth, astronauts report waking up in the middle of their
sleep period to use the bathroom, and distractions can cause them to stay up late
staring out the window” [13]. The Discovery Channel reported, “Astronauts may
experience fewer hours of regular sleep and/or poor quality sleep” [14].

A NASA internal experiment revealed the seriousness of sleep issues. During the
Mars Exploration Rover Mission in 2003, Mission Control staff operated on
Martian time to ascertain for themselves the consequences of biological clock
alteration. The result? “The Circadian rhythm shift {was} was both disruptive and
tiring” [15].

6. SPACE SLEEPING ACCOMMODATIONS

Sleeping in space differs fundamentally from slumber on Earth. Cline (2012)


noted that spacefarers on the ISS sleep in sleeping bags [16]. The space shuttles
were equipped with bunk beds [17].

A Russian source presented their experiences with sleep techniques. Grachov and
Kozin (2012) recalled, “No beds are needed in spacecraft. The spaceship crew
members rest in sleeping bags strapping themselves. Some prefer to sleep in the
cabin, because there is more room although in weightlessness the difference
between floor and ceiling is relative” [18].

Why sleeping bags? Here is the Russian answer, “During early flights in the space
orbital station Russian astronaut Vitali Sevastyanov noticed that, if your arms are
free in sleep, they fold in front of the face by themselves and ‘float.’ Therefore, it

 
194 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

is best to swaddle astronauts like a baby. That is why the space crews are
provided with sleeping bags” [19].

Space bunks were described by an online source, Science Clarified, more about
that in just a paragraph [20]. Bunks were specified by Van Pelt, along with the
sleeping bags attached to padded boards [21]. Van Pelt (2005) noted that the
space shuttles had four bunks, and that “the International Space Station also has
limited accommodation” [22].

We might consult another source on typical space sleep situations. An online


source, Science Clarified, explained how microgravity makes traditional sleep
factors like horizontal and vertical irrelevant, “When the time for sleep does
come, weightlessness somewhat simplifies the process of bedding down. Since
humans cannot sense an ‘up,’ and ‘down,’ in a weightless environment, they can
sleep in any position. Since space is in short supply, designers of space station
interiors can position astronauts to sleep vertically or horizontally” [23].

The ISS ‘bedroom’ warrants detailed description:

On the ISS, sleep compartments provide space for four people. The first
person sleeps on the top bunk, the second on the lower bunk. A third person
sleeps on the underside of the lower bunk, actually facing the floor. A fourth
person sleeps vertically, attached to the wall with Velcro straps. Because the
astronauts are in a weightless environment, mattresses are not needed.
Instead, each bed consists of a padded board with a fireproof sleeping bag
attached to it. Astronauts strap themselves inside the sleeping bags, generally
leaving their arms out. Crew quarters also provide a sound suppression
blanket, and sheets with weightlessness restraints for those who find the
sleeping bags too warm. Pillows are available as well [24]. A special space
sleeping bag was designed by Wubbo Ockels, a Dutch associate of the ESA.
His bag contained an adjustable rubber ring “that could simulate the weight
of bed covers” [25]. An online source also discussed sleeping in space,
“Space travelers can sleep in special sleeping bags with straps that press them
to the soft surface and to a pillow. However, many astronauts prefer to sleep
floating in the air, with only a few straps to keep them from bouncing around
the cabin. Astronauts may wear blindfolds to block the sunlight that streams
in the windows periodically during orbit. Typically, sleep duration in space is
about the same as that on Earth” [26].

 
Sleep Deprivation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 195

7. SLEEPING IN SHIFTS

Spacefarers on space missions typically sleep in shifts. Anderson and Piven


(2003) noted, “Many astronauts elect to sleep in shifts, so lights may remain on
and other crew members will be working while you are trying to sleep” [27].

At times during the American Apollo missions part of the crew worked while
others slept. When that proved problematic, everyone would sleep at the same
time, and Mission Control worked the same schedule. On the ISS, however, more
living space has allowed some crew members to sleep while work was conducted
elsewhere in the station [28].

“At no time are all crew members allowed to sleep at the same time; someone
must always be awake to handle potential emergencies,” it was reported [29].

8. INSOMNIA

How serious is space sleeplessness, or space sleep deprivation? Van Pelt (2003)
referred to “space sleeplessness,” a common and pervasive problem [30].
Respected space scholar Harrison (2001) recalled that, “The most common sleep
complaints include insomnia, waking up in the middle of the night, and other
problems that make it difficult to get enough sleep” [31].

9. STANDARD IS EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP DAILY

It has already been documented by one source that most astronauts receive about
6.5 hours of sleep daily. However, that is not the ideal amount, nor the daily
planned sleep duration.

Anderson and Piven (2003) provided a more optimistic estimate of daily astronaut
sleep amounts. They claimed, “Most astronauts sleep about eight hours at the end
of each mission day” [32]. In a similar vein, Cline (2010) reported, “Sleep periods
are usually scheduled for eight hours” [33].

10. LESS SLEEP IS ACCEPTABLE

“Just as caloric requirements are lower in orbit than on Earth, so too are sleep
requirements less,” according to an online source [34]. Grachov and Kozin (2012)

 
196 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

contended, “Physiologically the purpose of sleep is the same both in space and on
Earth—to give rest to the brain and supply it with oxygen. In outer space due to
weightlessness the blood rushes to the head, the vessels dilate and the process
takes place faster. Although the daily routine provides for eight hours of sleep, the
astronauts feel well rested after six hours” [35].

11. CAUSES OF SLEEP PROBLEMS

It would be helpful for us to know precisely why spacefarers experience sleep


dysfunction. Understanding the cause or causes of sleep deprivation would
facilitate efforts at addressing them. In this section we will consider opinions that
there are several causes of space sleep issues, and also a few individual variables;
melatonin, light, and weightlessness.

A. Variety of Causes
Reality is typically complex and complicated. There are usually several factors or
variables involved in any scenario or situation, and sleep deprivation is no
different. We will consider a quartet of opinions that space sleep disturbances
result from multiple factors.

“Sleeping in space can be a challenge, and not only because of the microgravity,”
Anderson and Piven explained. They continued, “With your spacecraft orbiting
the Earth every 90 minutes, the ship is never in complete darkness for long, which
can disrupt the body’s natural Circadian rhythms. Some space travelers have also
reported disrupted sleep patterns due to motion sickness and the warming rays of
the Sun entering the station or ship” [36]. Harrison (2001) described a different
set of sleep variables, including the excitement of being in space, thoughts about
unfinished work, high noise levels, relatively rapid transformation from night to
day, and the fact that others are working barely feet away [37].

Science Clarified provided this assessment of the multiple factors involved in


space sleep issues, “The close quarters can also result in sleep disruptions since
crew members can easily hear each other; weightlessness does not, apparently,
prevent snoring. In addition, sleeping near a window can be difficult since the Sun
rises every ninety minutes as the station orbits the Earth. The sunlight and warmth
entering a window is enough to disturb a sleeper who is not wearing a sleep
mask” [38].

 
Sleep Deprivation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 197

A psychological perspective on sleep deprivation in space was provided by Cline


(2010) in Psychology Today:

Space travel can affect sleep in many ways. Noise in the environment can
make sleep difficult. There is a high level of arousal and novelty
involved in space flight, and there are no normal day/night cycles that we
can depend on to orient our bodies for regular sleep/wake schedules.
Without the usual effects of gravity there is no necessarily up and down
orientation. Space travelers must attach themselves to something such as
a wall, seat or bunk bed to keep from floating away while asleep. Motion
sickness, historically a common occurrence on spaceflights, is also a
significant problem for getting to sleep [39]. A slightly different list of
variables was offered by a neuroscientist. Avril (2012) observed, “A new
sunrise takes place every ninety minutes. Docking maneuvers sometimes
occur at odd hours. Then there’s that apparent feeling of weightlessness.
No wonder astronauts aboard the International Space Station can have a
hard time getting a good night’s sleep” [40].

B. Melatonin
It appears that moonlight is more powerful than was previously thought. In fact,
one recent theory suggests that moonlight affects melatonin levels in spacefarers,
disturbing their slumber.

“Moonlight may interrupt astronauts’ sleep cycles by messing with their


melatonin, a new study shows,” according to the Daily Launch [41].

C. Light
The amount and nature of light is believed by some to be the key to space sleep
problems. This recognition is the foundation for new efforts to enhance spacefarer
sleep satisfaction.

“Light plays a powerful role in regulating our various biological clocks,”


according to Avril [42]. Avril (2012) described a new variable-lighting system for
the ISS, “The lights will have three ‘on’ settings—one to boost alertness in the
morning, one to help astronauts relax before bed, and a regular mode for midday.
All of them appear white, more or less, but the morning setting is brighter and is
‘enriched’ with cool, bluish tones, while the evening setting is heavier on warmer,
reddish hues” [43].

 
198 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

D. Weightlessness
A final individual cause for space sleep deprivation might be considered—
weightlessness. The lack of gravity is one of the most significant differences
between the Earth and space environments.

Grachov and Kozin (2012) discussed space issues from the Russian perspective.
They suggested, “Sleeping in space is not an easy thing. Some astronauts find it
difficult to adapt themselves to weightlessness and in the beginning have to take
sleeping pills. Later, however, everything becomes normal and their sleep is just
as deep as that of any healthy person after a hard day’s work” [44].

12. CONSEQUENCES OF FATIGUE

All of us have probably experienced fatigue at one point in our lives. It is a


condition of suboptimal mental and physical preparedness and capability, and the
consequences of sleep deprivation are a matter of common sense. In this section
the behavioral consequences of sleep deprivation will be discussed. “Various
methods must be employed to counter negative effects such as lowered
performance due to fatigue and boredom” [45].

An important experimental study was conducted by the Institute for Biomedical


Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Space Agency, with
the cooperation of the European Space Agency [46]. Six men were “locked in a
container” in Moscow on July 3, 2010, and released on November 4, 2011,
simulating a 520-day mission to Mars [47]. The half-dozen men engaged in more
than 90 “experiments and scenarios, including emergencies and twenty- minute
communication delays to Mission Command” [48]. Scientists monitored the men’s
sleep using wrist devices and they also administered a variety of neurological and
other tests [49].
“Maintaining natural sleep cycles is crucial for the success of interplanetary
missions,” the Bloomberg News concluded [50]. The account added, “In a 16-
month simulation of a mission to Mars, four of the six astronauts became
increasingly sedentary and experienced problems in performance associated with
sleep deprivation, according to research released Monday in the journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” [51].

NASA Flight Surgeon Smith Johnson suggested, “If you’re chronically sleep-
deprived you don’t perform as well. You’re moody. You don’t have as good
coping mechanisms” [52]. George Brainard, a neuroscientist, added that, “Every

 
Sleep Deprivation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 199

one of us has probably done an all-nighter or two in our lives. You feel crummy
the next day, but you bounce back. And you also get your recovery sleep. They
(the astronauts) are not getting their recovery sleep. That’s the problem. Day in,
day out, they’re missing the ingredients for best health and best behavioral
regulation” [53]. Cline (2010) succinctly concluded, “Problems with sleep can
lead to fatigue and loss of performance in astronauts” [54].

13. SLEEP SOLUTIONS

Like all of the human libido functions, sleep is a complex psychological and
physiological phenomenon. It is not easily consciously altered. Nevertheless, a
variety of solutions to space sleep deprivation has been proposed.

Van Pelt (2005) offered a number of potential remedies for sleep disturbances in
space. He recommended sleeping pills, a hormone thought to be responsible for
the sleep cycle, moderate physical exercise, and the use of strong light [55].
Research by Brainard discovered that a specific shade of blue could be effective
in regulating melatonin production in the body [56].

At the present time, according to my research, sleeping medication seems to be


the primary means of addressing space sleep deprivation. Grachov and Kozin
(2012) recalled that some astronauts relied on sleeping pills, especially at the
beginning of their spaceflight experience [57]. Avril (2012) observed, “Some
astronauts take short-acting sleeping pills” [58]. Van Pelt (2005) included
sleeping pills as one of the half-dozen or so sleep aid options available to
spacefarers [59].

How frequently do space sojourners use sleeping medication to alleviate sleep


deprivation? Although precise figures are unavailable it would seem to be an
extensive amount. Cline (2010) reported that, “According to NASA, astronauts
frequently take sleeping medications but these can cause the same ‘hang-over’
and decreased performance that people on Earth experience” [60]. Harrison
(2001) added, “Up to 50 % of the astronauts relied to some extent on sleeping
pills. Individual astronauts test types of sleeping pills and dosages prior to
departure; the idea is to help them get a good night’s sleep but awake refreshed,
not dazed or in a hypnotic state” [61].

Is hibernation the long-term solution to sleep deprivation on lengthy space


missions? The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics reported,
“Future long-term space travelers may spend part of their journey in suspended

 
200 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

animation.” Research on hydrogen sulfide has shown that metabolism can be


drastically reduced without loss of oxygen supply to the organs [62].

14. GROUND CONTROL WAKE-UP CALLS

It can be difficult to awaken on Earth and the same can be said of outer space.
Over the years NASA Mission Control specialists have created a tradition of
waking up American space crews with carefully-selected music.

“Americans on the shuttle are usually awakened by music sent by Mission


Control. On the space station alarm clocks are used,” Cline noted [63]. Van Pelt
added detail, “They play a different song each day, usually a favorite of one of the
astronauts and sometime a tune requested by a family member” [64]. When the
NASA Sojourner landed on Mars, NASA awakened the robot each morning with
songs like “Love me Like a Rock” by Paul Simon and Dire Straits,’ “So Far
Away” [65].

Other perspectives on this musical alarm clock system can be entertained. “On
America’s Skylab, ground control picked out a song for an astronaut each day.
Sometimes a family member will request that controllers play a particular song
for their loved one on the ISS. In other cases, depending upon the astronaut’s
taste, ground control may play rock and roll, country and western, or classical,”
noted an online source [66].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] J. Pass, “Space Medicine: Medical Astrobiology in the Sick Bay.” Proceedings of the American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. AIAA 2008-1465, 2008, p. 11.
[2] Pass, “Space Medicine,” p. 11.
[3] Center for Chronobiology, University of California, San Diego, “Chronobiology Defined,” 2014.
[Online]. Available: http://www.ccb.ucsd.edu. Accessed 9th March 2014, p. 1.
[4] M. Van Pelt, Space Tourism. New York: Plexus Publishing, 2005, p. 161.
[5] Center for Chronobiology, “Chronobiology,” p. 1.
[6] Center for Chronobiology, “Chronobiology,” p. 1.

 
Sleep Deprivation Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 201

[7] T. Avril, “Jefferson Neuroscientist Helping Astronauts Sleep Better,”Philly.com. July 24, 2012.
[Online]. Available: March 5, 2014 from http://articles.philly.com/2012-07-
24/entertainment/32805645_1_astronaut-health-space-station-sleep. Accessed 5th March 2014, p. 1.
[8] National Space Biomedical Research Institute, “The Body in Space,” 2010. [Online]. Available:
http://www.nsbri.org/DISCOVERIES-FOR-SPACE-and-EARTH/The-Body-in-Space/. Accessed 5th
March 2014, p. 2.
[9] Pass, “Space Medicine,” p. 11.
[10] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, pp. 160-1.
[11] Avril, “Jefferson,” p. 1.
[12] J. Cline, “Sleep: Lost in Space,” Psychology Today, July 27, 2013. [Online]. Available:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleepless-in-america/201007/sleep-lost-in-space/. Accessed
March 6, 2014, p. 2.
[13] Science Clarified, “Living in Outer Space,” 2014. [Online]. Available:
http://www.scienceclarified.com/scitech/Space-Stations/Living-in-Outer-Space.html. Accessed 14th
March 2014, pp. 5-6.
[14] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects of Long-Term Space Flight on the Human Body,” 2014.
[Online]. Available: http://www.racetomars.ca/mars/article_effects.jsp. Accessed 5th March 2014, p.
2.
[15] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects,” p. 2.
[16] Cline, “Lost,” p. 2.
[17] Cline, “Lost,” p. 2.
[18] A. Grachov, and S. Kozin, “Space Travel Problems: Sleeping in Outer Space Travel,” 2014. [Online].
Available: http://spacefeelings.com/outer-space-travel-sleeping_shtml. Accessed 5th March 2014, p.
2.
[19] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 2.
[20] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 5.
[21] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 5.
[22] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 160.
[23] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 5.
[24] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 5.
[25] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 160.
[26] “Space Exploration,” N. d. [Online]. Available: http://www.abhisheksood.50megs.com/living_
in_space.htm. Accessed March 17th 2014, p. 2.
[27] E. Anderson, and J. Piven, The Space Tourist’s Handbook. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2003, p. 145.
[28] A.A. Harrison, Spacefaring: The Human Factors. Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 2001, p. 194.
[29] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 6.
[30] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 161.
[31] Harrison, Spacefaring, p. 193.
[32] Anderson and Piven, Handbook, p. 147.
[33] Cline, “Lost,” p. 2.
[34] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 1.
[35] Science Clarified, “Living,” p. 5.
[36] Anderson and Piven, Handbook, p. 145.
[37] Harrison, Spacefaring, p. 193.
[38] Science Clarified, “Living,” pp. 5-6.
[39] Cline, “Lost,” p. 2.
[40] Avril, “Jefferson,” pp. 1-2.
[41] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Moonlight Thought to Affect Astronauts’
Sleep,” Daily Launch, November 19, 2008, p. 3.
[42] Avril, “Jefferson,” p. 1.
[43] Avril, “Jefferson,” p. 1.
[44] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 1.
[45] Pass, “Space Medicine,” p. 11.

 
202 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[46] Bloomberg News Service, “More Risk Seen for Mars Trip: Mission May Hurt Astronauts Sleep,”
Albuquerque Journal, p. A8, January 8, 2013.
[47] BNS, “More Risk,” p. A8.
[48] BNS, “More Risk,” p. A8.
[49] BNS, “More Risk,” p. A8.
[50] BNS, “More Risk,” p. A8.
[51] BNS, “More Risk,” p. A8.
[52] Avril, “Jefferson,” p. 1.
[53] Avril, “Jefferson,” p. 1.
[54] Cline, “Lost,” p. 2.
[55] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 163.
[56] Avril, “Jefferson,” pp. 1-2.
[57] Harrison, Spacefaring, p. 194.
[58] Cline, “Lost,” pp. 1-2.
[59] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 161.
[60] Avril, “Jefferson,” p. 1.
[61] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 1.
[62] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Hibernation Tested for Future Astronauts,”
Daily Launch, August 7, 2008, p. 6.
[63] Cline, “Lost,” p. 2.
[64] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 161.
[65] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 161.
[66] Science Clarified, “Living,” p. 6.

 
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 203-216 203

CHAPTER 19

Bones
Abstract: Bones in space were the subject of this chapter. Related concepts
osteoporosis and disuse osteoporosis were reviewed. The precise degradation suffered
by the skeleton in space was variously referred to as bone loss, bone strength, bone
density loss, bone decay and bone demineralization. It was noted that the rate of bone
degradation has been underestimated. A half-dozen potential causes of space bone
problems were considered. Related deficiencies in magnesium, proteins and Vitamin D
were noted. Resorption exceeds new bone formation in space. Space-induced bone
problems do not necessarily improve upon return to the Earth. Solutions to space-
caused bone problems were discussed.

Keywords: Absorption, biomedicine, bone decay, bone loss, calcium, decay,


demineralization, disuse osteoporosis, excretion, fracture, kidney stone,
magnesium, National Academy of Science, National Research Council,
osteoporosis, protein, resorption, Science Channel, vestibular, vitamin D.
1. INTRODUCTON

It is not an overstatement to suggest that bones are the foundation of human


beings. They support our bodies and enable us to withstand the pressure exerted
by gravity. The human skeleton is a very important part of our anatomy.
But that changes in space. The microgravity environment fails to exert that
irresistible influence and the skeleton is not as necessary. As a result our bodies
quickly evolve and bones change drastically. In this chapter we will consider the
effect of the space environment on bones, and possible solutions to the deleterious
consequences will be documented.
2. SPACE OSTEOPOROSIS

There is a human bone malady known as osteoporosis. It afflicts human beings


here on the Earth, but it is virtually identical to the bone degradation suffered by
spacefarers. First we will consider the symptoms of ‘normal,’ terrestrial
osteoporosis, then will examine a specialized type of osteoporosis known as
disuse osteoporosis.

A. Osteoporosis
“The changes in bone during spaceflight are very similar to those seen in certain
situations on the ground,” noted one source. It added, “There are similarities to
Dirk C. Gibson
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204 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

osteoporosis, and even paralysis. While osteoporosis has many causes, the end
result seems to be similar to spaceflight bone loss. Paralyzed individuals have
biochemical changes very similar to those of astronauts. This is because in both
cases the bones are not being used for support” [1].

The Sophron Foundation warned of “osteopathic bone degeneration” [2]. Boni


(2012) observed that osteoporosis occurs when the resorption rate exceeds
mineral deposition in the bones [3]. The Discovery Channel mentioned that space-
induced bone issues were “like osteoporosis on Earth” [4].

B. Disuse Osteoporosis
When people convalesce from surgery, serious illnesses and other medical
situations they may be forced into a totally sedentary lifestyle. Bones, like
muscles, are accustomed to being used, and the body senses when that is not the
case and compensates through chemical changes.

The term ‘disuse osteoporosis,’ and the term I am coining, ‘space osteoporosis’
are in fact exact synonyms. A NASA report noted, “This drop in density known as
disuse osteoporosis, leaves bone weak and less able to support the body’s weight
and movement upon return to Earth, putting the astronauts at a higher risk of
fracture” [5].

3. BONE DENSITY LOSS

Healthy bone is relatively dense. It is living tissue, and the thicker the better,
under typical terrestrial circumstances. Living in space has been causally linked to
reduction in bone density.

“Astronauts bones become less dense and more rickety, and they suffer
osteoporosis-like effects. Astronauts can lose at least 10 times as much bone
density per year as a person on Earth,” the Science Channel reported [6]. The
National Research Council (2014) noted, “Crew members on the Russian space
station Mir showed an average loss in bone mass of up to one per cent per month
in weight-bearing bones” [7]. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine,
concurred, adding that astronauts on long-duration flights suffer substantial space-
caused bone degradation [8]. One source mentioned “the decrease in bone density
or bone mass” [9].

NASA conceded that, “It has been common knowledge that extended space time
can have a negative effect on bone density” [10]. Zhang et al. (2010) suggested,

 
Bones Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 205

“Loss of skeletal mass is a potentially serious consequence of long-term space


flight. Skylab astronauts exhibited significant decline in the bone mineral density
of the calcaneus after 84 days of orbital flight” [11].

4. BONE LOSS

“Serious effects on bone and muscle physiology” and “loss of bone mass” were
attributed by Selnow (2003) to the microgravity outer space environment [12].
Chavis and Adcock (2010) provided some quantification, “Bone tissue loss
proceeds at a rate of 1.5 % per month” [13].

Kirkwood (2013) suggested that the microgravity of space was responsible for
“changing the body’s bone density during space flight.” She added, “Microgravity
has been documented to wreak havoc on the human body—particularly the bones.
What happens to an astronaut’s bones in space? Bone loss. Astronauts lose bone
mass in space at an alarming rate. After several months on the International Space
Station, a study found that astronauts lose 1-2% of bone mass on average
monthly” [14].

“In a zero-gravity, outer space environment, humans go through very unique


physiological changes,” according to S. Marlene Grenon, a researcher at the San
Francisco VA Medical Center. She added, “They experience bone loss” [15]. Van
Pelt (2005) noted that spacefarers lose one percent of bone density each month
[16].

“Bone loss” was attributed to the space environment by Choi (2013) [17].
Scientific American noted, “In microgravity, bone loss occurs at a rate of 1.5% a
month” [18]. The Discovery Channel added, “Bone loss can lead to fractures,
weakness and painful urinary stones” [19]. Krueger (2000) referred to “bone loss”
as “a pervasive physiological problem” resulting from space travel [20].
Berinstein (2002) contended that bone loss increases by two per cent per month in
space [21]. “It has been well established that astronauts experience bone loss,”
according to Block (1998) [22].

5. BONE DECAY

Some biomedical researchers, teachers, physicians and scientists speak of a


phenomenon called bone decay. Boni (2012) used the term in her article,
“Biological and Physiological Effects of Human Space Flight” [23]. According to

 
206 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Boni, “One of the most prevalent ramifications of living in space is tissue loss;
noticeably, bone decay, occurring at rates of up to 1.5% per month in orbit” [24].

6. BONE DEMINERALIZATION

Another term used to describe bone degradation is demineralization. Harrison


(2001) suggested that, “bone demineralization” was “among the undesirable
biomedical consequences of life in space” [25]. An online source agreed and
added, “After many months in space a process called demineralization weakens
the bones” [26]. “Bone demineralization” was mentioned by Morphew (2001) as a
major space-related problem [27].

“Continuous loss of bone minerals” was described by Kazuyoshi (2000) [28].


Heppenheimer (1979) offered this startling statistic, “It appears that in one year of
weightlessness a person would lose 25 per cent of his bone calcium” [29]. The
Canadian Space Agency referred to a loss of bone minerals, specifying calcium,
potassium and sodium [30].

7. BONE MASS

Previously in this chapter we discovered that some use the terms bone density and
bone mass interchangeably. It was noted that those serving extended amounts of
time on the Russian space station MIR suffered a 20% loss in bone mass [31].

“Loss of skeletal mass” was perceived by Zheng et al. in their study of spacefarers
[32]. Harrison (2001) observed, “Other studies confirm a progressive loss of
calcium and bone mass over time” [33].

8. BONE STRENGTH

It is possible to evaluate bones in terms of their strength. As we might expect the


bone strength level decreases the longer a spacefarer lives outside of the Earth’s
environment. The scientists and researchers at the University of California, Irvine,
have concluded, “Astronauts spending months in space lose significant bone
strength, putting them at growing risk for fractures later in life” [34].

“The bones, too grow weaker,” according to the Canadian Space Agency, while
“decreases in bone density and strength” were documented by Scientific American
[35]. Harrison (2001) observed “a weakening of the bones,” and Heppenheimer
(1978) declared, “In zero-g, bones tend to lose calcium and grow weaker” [36].

 
Bones Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 207

9. BONE MARROW DEGRADATION

Skylab astronauts were administered careful and thorough medical exams upon
their return to the Earth. Commercial space proponent Eugene O’Neill cautioned
that, “loss of bone marrow” was a consequence of long-term space travel [37].

10. BONE DEGENERATION

Some space authorities and medical professionals have referred to a phenomenon


called bone degeneration. “Degeneration of certain bones” was alleged by O’Neill
(2000) [38].

“We know that microgravity causes bone degeneration,” according to an Internet


source [39]. The bone degradation phenomenon was quantified by the Canadian
Space Agency, “This bone degradation can reduce bone in the lower limbs by up
to 10%” [40].

11. BONE EMBRITTLEMENT

David Ashford is a well-respected British aerospace pioneer. In his 2002 book,


Spaceflight Revolution, he claimed, “Long-duration space flights have shown that
months of zero-g can cause bone embrittlement and other medical problems” [41].

12. RATE OF BONE LOSS HAS BEEN UNDERESTIMATED.

In this chapter we have considered a number of sources, and the consensus was
that space travel causes bone degradation. No contrary opinions have been
located. Nevertheless, it has been suggested recently that the actual risk to bone
health from space travel has been underestimated.

“The researchers said they were alarmed because the results revealed more severe
bone deterioration than previously measured using less powerful techniques,”
according to University of California Irvine scientists [42]. And the Daily Launch
reported a 2009 statement by Tariq Malik in Space.com, “Astronauts that spend
long months aboard the International Space Station lose bone strength faster than
previously thought” [43].

13. CAUSES OF BONE DEGRADATION

The determination of causes for space-induced bone degradation is an important


scientific biomedical mission. Interestingly, the suggestions about the potential

 
208 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

factors all involve single causes, whereas usually multi-causal scenarios seem to
dominate. A half-dozen individual causes of space bone degradation will be
examined.

A. Microgravity Causes Calcium Excretion


Faqs.org. observed, “Weightlessness also increases excretion of calcium, in the
urine and the risk of forming kidney stones. Both these conditions are related to
bone loss” [44]. A NASA report, “Bones in Space,” explained that the rate of
calcium excretion is much higher in space than on Earth. This explains “The high
amount of calcium found in astronaut’s blood during spaceflight (much higher
than on Earth)” [45]. Harrison (2001) quantified the calcium loss at 300 mg per
day [46].

B. Absorption of Calcium in Space Declines


Digestion in space is dissimilar to terrestrial processes in at least one respect.
Calcium absorption declines substantially. When someone eats food containing
calcium the chemical is stored in the intestines. However, “Absorption of calcium
from the intestines decreases during spaceflight. Even when astronauts take extra
calcium as a supplement, they still lose bone” [47].

C. Spacecraft Shielding Blocks Vitamin D


Outer space is full of dangers and first and foremost may well be radiation. As a
direct result spacecraft shielding and construction is planned around protecting
astronauts from harmful radiation.

That shielding can also, however, block out desirable and healthy natural forces.
For instance, Vitamin D. An online source contended that, “In space, astronauts
could receive too much ultraviolet light, so spacecraft are shielded to prevent this
exposure. Because of this, all of the astronaut’s Vitamin D has to be provided by
their diet. However, it is very common for Vitamin D levels to decrease during
spaceflight” [48].

D. Space Diet’s Sodium Levels Impair Bone Development


“Sodium intake is also a concern during spaceflight, because space diets tend to
have relatively high level of sodium,” one study reported [49]. That is important
because of the effect of a high- sodium diet on calcium, “Increased dietary sodium
is associated with higher amounts of calcium in the urine” [50].

 
Bones Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 209

E. Microgravity Reduces Need for Bones


The human body has an amazing self-monitoring and self-repair capacity. One of
the most popular theories of the causes of bone loss depends on this self-
regulation. Some believe that because microgravity frees the bones from the
necessity of supporting the body against the power of gravity, the body realizes
this and accordingly turns down the processes that produce new bone.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have investigated bone


degradation in space. They suggested, “For years, researchers have studied why
prolonged time spent in outer space leaves bones more fragile. In general, it’s
thought to occur because in the absence of gravity, the bones no longer do their
regular work of supporting body weight. The bones then stop maintaining
themselves properly” [51].

F. Vestibular System Causes Bone Degradation


A final cause of space-induced bone deterioration might be considered, one involving
the inner ear. This body system functions to assist with spatial orientation and balance,
but it may have important consequences for bone development.

“The vestibular system acts as a sensor collecting data about the body’s
position/motion and informs the brainstem, which then sends signals to various
brain regions that coordinate body motion or balance,” Kirkwood reported [52].
She added that there is a problem when then vestibular system operates outside of
the terrestrial setting, “Unfortunately for the vestibular system, it was designed to
function under Earth’s gravitational forces and when those are taken away in
space, the system reports incorrect and disorienting information to the brain” [53].

Other researchers have considered the vestibular system in the context of bone
degradation. “Vignaux et al. realized that the vestibular system is altered in the
microgravity environment of space and postulated that if the vestibular system is
providing the brain with incorrect information, which is what happens to
astronauts in space, then incorrect sympathetic output could partially account for
decreases in bone mineral density observed after extended space travel” [54].

An experiment with rats was designed to mimic the effects of microgravity on


astronauts’ bone degradation. The vestibular system of the rats was destroyed and
their subsequent bone mass levels recorded periodically. The rats consistently
manifested bone mass reduction, and the “bone loss was not a result of metabolic
changes but rather specifically due to bone remodeling” [55].

 
210 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

14. BONE CHANGES REDUCE MAGNESIUM

Magnesium serves the human body by mitigating the effects of free radicals,
which are molecules capable of splitting DNA and causing calcium-induced toxic
cellular effects [56]. Magnesium is stored in bone and muscle [57]. According to
Van Pelt (2005), the effect of this reduction in magnesium “on long flights can be
very dangerous” [58].

15. BONE CHANGES REDUCE VITAMIN D

In an earlier section we noted that Vitamin D levels were reduced in spacefarers [59].
It was suggested that Vitamin D levels among astronauts were typically low [60].

16. BONE CHANGES REDUCE PROTEIN

“Proteins are the basic machinery of the body,” according to Dr. Peter Stein of the
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey [61]. He added, “Muscle
function, cell structure, immune responses,” are all significant functions of
proteins in the human body [62].

“Another important marker is the quantity of proteins lost. So, the loss of
proteins--as measured by certain markers in blood and urine samples—is of great
concern. One of the effects measured is a 45 per cent decrease in protein synthesis
as compared to a 15 to 20% decrease expected from bed rest studies” [63].
Professor Stein remarked, “This looks very odd, it looks too high” [64]. The
Science Channel concurred, and added, “In a gravity-free environment, bones stop
producing proteins that tell the bones to replace old, worn-out bone cells” [65].

17. IN SPACE RESORPTION EXCEEDS NEW BONE FORMATION

There are two ways that new bone is produced. Some bone is entirely new, while
other is a re- mix of old and new bone. That mixture of old and new bones is
known as resorpted bone. The space microgravity environment appears to be a
variable in bone formation.

A. New Bone Formation & Resorption


Faqs.org (2014) recently provided a brief primer on bone formation, “Bone is a
living tissue, and is constantly being remodeled. This remodeling is achieved
through breakdown of existing bone tissue (a process known as resorption) and
formation of new bone tissue” [66].

 
Bones Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 211

B. Resorption in Space
It seems that resorption is somehow affected by the space environment. One study
suggested, “During spaceflight, resorption increases significantly” [67].

18. HIP & SPINE BONE DAMAGE WORST

Bone degradation due to the space environment does not occur equally to all
bones. Certain bones are relatively much more likely to be affected by the
microgravity milieu of space than others. This phenomenon will be exemplified
and documented in this section.

“The hips suffer the greatest rate of bone loss in space, and a hip fracture almost
always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair walking ability
and may cause prolonged or permanent disability or even death,” asserted
researchers at the University of California, Irvine [68].

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics reported in 2009 that the
hips and spine of spacefarers usually manifest the greatest degree of bone
degradation [69]. Kirkwood (2014) observed that bone problems in space occur
“mainly in the lumbar, spine and legs” [70]. The Discovery Channel reported that
the heel bone, femoral neck, lumbar spine, and pelvis suffered “the most dramatic
changes” [71].

The pelvis was singled out by Scientific American as the major victim of space-
induced bone degredation [72]. Hall (1997) offered a broader range of primary
targets, “Evidence suggests that the loss occurs primarily in the weight-bearing
bones of the legs and spine. Non-weight-bearing bones, such as the skull and
fingers, do not seem to be affected” [73].

19. BONE PROBLEMS PERSIST AFTER RETURN TO EARTH

There is considerable agreement among space scientists that the bone degradation
difficulties experienced by spacefarers might not be temporary or short-term. In
fact, some of these skeletal maladies may persist for the duration of the lives of
the astronauts involved.

Van Pelt (2005) claimed that calcium deficiency incurred in space “may never be
completely restored” [74]. Another source suggested similarly that, “The changes
that occur in space only become apparent upon returning to Earth’s gravitational
forces and manifest in an increased risk of bone fracture” [75]. An equivocal

 
212 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

assessment of the recovery factor in astronauts’ subsequent terrestrial life was


offered by Faqs.com. (2014), “It’s not clear whether bone mass lost in space is
fully replaced after returning to Earth. It is also unclear whether the quality (or
strength) of the replaced bone is the same as the bone that was there before the
spaceflight” [76]. And if it is possible to recover fully from space-induced bone
degradation, it will certainly not happen quickly and without considerable effort.
“It will take two years or more of dedicated, consistent training upon return to
repair it” [77].

There is good news from the aforementioned online source, “Preliminary data
seem to show that some crew members do indeed regain their preflight bone
mass, but this process takes two or three times as long as their flight” [78].

“If preventive measures are not taken, some of our astronauts may be at increased
risk of age- related fractures decades after their missions,” remarked Joyce Keyak,
a researcher at the University of California, Irvine [79]. An equally pessimistic
note was sounded by another study, “Astronauts regain most of their bone mass in
the months following their return from space, but not all of it,” NASA admitted
[80]. The Science Channel reported, “Once back on Earth, astronauts don’t
replace bone quickly, and they’re at greater risk for fractures” [81].

20. SOLUTIONS

We conclude this chapter with an assessment of the remedies and solutions that
have been proposed, considered and sometimes implemented to assist astronauts
in avoiding bone degradation and promoting good bone health. Technology,
human activity, and lifestyle nutritional choices all will be examined.

A. Exercise
The primary palliative measure adopted to promote astronaut bone health in
particular and good health in general is exercise. Yet this is probably not
sufficient in and of itself to prevent bone disorders. Boni (2012) reported, “While
mitigating benefits have been shown from regular exercise on a treadmill with
resistance-inducing elastic straps, these benefits are just that, mitigating, and not
yet fully protective” [82].

The exercise regimen on the ISS might be worth consideration. Three


technologies are involved, treadmills, exercise bikes and weights, although “the
bike is bolted to the space station floor,” according to the Science Channel [83].

 
Bones Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 213

In 2007 astronaut Sunita Williams ran the Boston Marathon in space at the same
time the race was being run on the ground in Boston [84]. Van Pelt (2005)
observed that a minimum of two hours daily on the treadmill is necessary [85].

B. Vibrating Plate
Technology may have come to the rescue by making it easier for astronauts to
attain exercise in space. Van Pelt (2005) described a vibrating plate useful in the
maintenance of spacefarer health [86]. The plate vibrates at a frequency of ninety
times per second and astronauts engage in twenty minutes’ worth of passive
exercise per session [87]. Straps secure the sparefarer to the plate so his or her
hands are free for other tasks [88].

C. Diet and Exercise


Diet and exercise make sense in terms of general health promotion. Nutritional
adequacy and physical activity are major factors in physical and psychological health.
Space health is no different than its terrestrial counterpart in these two respects.

“Astronauts eat a careful diet and get plenty of special exercise in space to prevent
disuse osteoporosis,” according to a 2014 NASA publication [89]. A report by
Chavis and Adcock (2010) noted, “The only way to combat these problems is
through exercise and a controlled diet” [90].

D. All Bone Degradation not Preventable


Another point might be emphasized. Despite our best intentions, it is not possible
to prevent all of the damage caused by the space environment. At best our
technology and techniques are able to prevent some damage and minimize other
degradation. Kirkwood (2013) observed, “To counteract the musculoskeletal
changes astronauts experience in space, exercise programs have been established
but do not fully preserve bone mass in microgravity” [91].

E. Artificial Gravity
Berinstein (2002) reported on the possible use of artificial gravity beds in space
[92]. According to the Discovery Channel, “Artificial gravity would also serve to
mitigate this problem” [93].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

 
214 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

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Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 217-227 217

CHAPTER 20

Vision Problems
Abstract: Vision problems and eye damage in space were the topic of this chapter. The
fact that microgravity causes vision loss was documented, with a trio of specific eye
maladies discussed. A half-dozen possible causes of space-related vision loss were
analyzed. The similarity of space vision issues to a pair of terrestrial maladies was
recognized. The magnitude of the space vision degradation problem was quantified, and
the question of whether or not this damage is permanent was addressed. It was
documented that many spacefarer vision problems occur after astronauts return to Earth.
A one-month threshold for space-induced eye issues was documented. NASA interest in
this issue was discussed as were NASA policy acts regarding vision degradation.
Studies on vision changes in microgravity were considered.

Keywords: Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, cataract, cataractogenesis, CBC


News, Center for Radiological Research, cerebral artery, Columbia University,
folic acid, hypoxia, hypothermia, intracranial hypertension, linear, optic nerve,
National Biochemistry Lab, Orlando Sentinel, oxidative stress, papilledema,
Russian Institute of Medical and Biological Studies, University of Texas Medical
School.

1. INTRODUCTION

Vision is a basic human sense and a critical means of acquiring important


information. For a spacefarer the ability to see is necessary or at least very
desirable. Whether a person is in space on the job or for recreation, vision is a
significant source of sensory stimuli.

Unfortunately, there is a consensus that the space environment is hostile to the


human vision system. There is considerable disagreement on the specific causal
mechanism but little doubt that vision suffers and the eyes themselves are injured
by microgravity.

2. MICROGRAVITY DEGRADES EYES

It is almost a matter of common knowledge that the space environment damages


vision and spacefarer eyes. In this section a trio of specific eye problems will be
documented. And the critical fact that there is a linear relationship between space
exposure and vision problems is discussed.

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
218 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

A. Vision Degradation
“Vision problems experienced by astronauts” were mentioned by a 2012 NASA
report [1]. “Astronauts’ eyesight deteriorates in space,” noted SPACE DAILY [2].
According to Space.com., “Scientists have long known that extended spaceflight
is bad for astronauts bones and muscles. Now evidence is building that it may
cause vision problems as well” [3].

Excitement over a publicized planned excursion to Mars was dashed by the


revelation of space induced eye maladies. Matthews (2011) explained, “A newly
discovered eye condition—found to erode the vision of some astronauts who’ve
spent months aboard the International Space Station—has doctors worried that
future explorers could go blind by the end of long missions, such as a multi-year
trip to Mars” [4]. Coghlan (2012) reported for the New Scientist, “Space flight
may be bad for your eyesight. Changes found in astronauts’ eye tissue may cause
vision problems, and possibly even blindness. As well as threatening the lives of
astronauts, this could jeopardize long-term missions into space” [5].

B. Flattened Eyeballs
Vision damage is bad enough. But there is some reason to believe that the eyeball
itself is damaged by the microgravity environment of space. The results of
empirical research and expert opinion will both be considered.

The study conducted by Dr. Larry Kramer, a Professor of Diagnostic and


Interventional Imaging at the University of Texas Medical School, gave us our
initial baseline data on the prevalence of vision issues among spacefarers. The
Discovery Channel reported that Kramer found “flattening of the back of the
eyeball in 22 per cent of them” [6]. The Blouin News (2014) referred to “squashed
eyeballs” [7].

C. Cataracts
Does the outer space environment cause the development of cataracts? To date
there is no evidence of this phenomenon. But a clue might be discerned from
recent research at the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University.

“NASA-funded investigators at the Center are examining the effects of space


radiation on cataractogenesis and the basic cellular, biochemical and genetic
determinants underlying the body’s physiological responses after such an
exposure” [8].

 
Vision Problems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 219

D. Microgravity Damage to Eyes is Linear


A final point deserves to be mentioned concerning the vision damage produced by
exposure to the space environment. The damage is linear. That means that the
greater the time spent in space the greater the damage done to vision [9].

3. CAUSES OF SPACE VISION PROBLEMS

It is abundantly clear that there is a relationship between the microgravity


environment of space and resulting vision problems suffered by spacefarers. The
only question is—what is the specific cellular, biological and/or chemical
mechanism responsible for the vision degradation? In this section a half-dozen
possible causal explanations for space vision problems will be documented.

A. Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress may be the cause of space vision problems. “Spaceflight exposes
astronauts to radiation, hypothermia, hypoxia and variations in gravity, all of
which may play roles in tissue injury, and, in particular, oxidative stress” [10].

Peroxides and free radicals are created by oxidative stress and they damage DNA,
cells, protein, and mitochondria. This is serious because “mitochondria are
particularly sensitive to oxidative stress, and, therefore, to the effects of
microgravity and radiation in space. Mitochondria are thought to play an
important role in damage to the retina and have been linked to age and disease-
related vision impairment” [11].

Two recent studies were conducted on the issue of oxidative stress. One was led
by Susana Zanello, Universities Space Research Associate scientist at the NASA
Johnson Space Center, whose team examined changes in gene expression in the
retina. Xian W. Mao, a researcher at the Loma Linda University and Medical
Center, examined the role of oxidative stress in mitochondria damage. Cowling
(2013) concluded that, “Both studies implicated oxidative stress in eye damage”
[12].

B. Excess Cerebral Spinal Fluid


We have already learned something about the Kramer study on astronaut vision
problems. Kramer and his team of researchers located and observed excess
cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic nerve in 33 per cent of the cases examined
[13].

 
220 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

C. Bulging Optic Nerve


“Fifteen per cent had a bulging optic nerve,” according to reporting on the Kramer
research on The Discovery Channel [14].

D. Cerebral Artery Insufficiency


A recent Russian space study will be discussed in detail later in this chapter. At
this point, let us merely note that the cerebral artery has been implicated in one
theory of how the space environment degrades eyes and vision.

“The experiment showed the capacity of the cerebral arteries was diminished in
space, which accounts for the effect on vision,” an online outer space source
noted. Vladimir Sychev, with the Russian Institute of Medical and Biological
Studies, explained, “We used to think that in zero-gravity fluids travelled upwards
and that the quality of {blood} improved, but it turns out that it is the other way
around. The arteries of the brain come under duress and their capacity is reduced
by 40 %” [15].

E. Vitamin Deficiency
Folic acid and Vitamin B-12 may be related to the vision problems associated
with life in the space environment. That was the conclusion of one investigation
into space-induced vision degradation.

“Could vision changes experienced by astronauts be linked to a Vitamin B-12 or


folate deficiency?,” NASA asked in a recent publication. The answer is yes—
“While investigating these vision changes recently announced in astronauts,
nutritional assessment data showed similarities to symptoms that occur with
vitamin deficiencies” [16].

NASA cautioned that this data was tentative, “While these data are very exciting,
they are very preliminary,” said Scott Smith, of NASA’s Johnson Space Center
National Biochemistry Lab. He added, “The next step is to directly test for the
presence of the enzyme polymorphisms to verify whether it is related to the vision
changes” [17].

F. Fluid Shift
The Aerospace Daily & Defense Report recently noted that one of the effects of
microgravity is a phenomenon known as ‘fluid shift.’ Carreau (2013) reported

 
Vision Problems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 221

“the link between the blurred vision and the long-observed shift of fluids from the
lower torso to the chests and heads of flyers” [18].

Dr. Christian Otto is a Universities Space Research Associate remote medical


specialist who works with NASA as Principal Investigator for the project,
“Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health.” He suggested, “This is our
first formal take at doing a study to document systematically eye health. Our
hypothesis is that the intracranial pressure actually elevates in flight due to the
fluid shift in zero gravity” [19].

4. SIMILAR VISION ILLNESSES

We have learned that there are terrestrial counterparts to the space-induced bone
degeneration suffered in microgravity. Similarly, there are two Earth medical
conditions with something in common with the vision issues suffered by
spacefarers. Both intracranial hypertension and papillodema will be examined.

A. Intracranial Hypertension
Coghlan (2012) noticed the similarity between this terrestrial eye disease and
space visual degradation, “The changes match those seen in people with
idiopathic intercranial hypertension” [20]. SPACE.com. observed that space-
induced vision problems were “similar to those that can occur to patients with
intracranial hypertension, a potentially serious condition in which pressure builds,
up inside the skull” [21]. The Discovery Channel also documented the similarity
of these two maladies, the terrestrial and space versions [22].

Now that the similarity between the space vision malady and intracranial
hypertension has been established, it should be documented that the space
environment is in fact responsible for visual problems. Kramer noted,
“Microgravity-induced intracranial hypertension represents a hypothetical risk
factor, and a potential limitation to long-duration space travel. The MRI findings
revealed various combinations of abnormalities, following both short- and long-
term cumulative exposure to microgravity also seen with idiopathic intracranial
hypertension” [23]. The MRI findings were confirmed by other sources [24].

The Kramer study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology [25]. The
study found that about 60% of the astronauts had suffered substantial vision
degradation so serious that they could not retain their pilot’s license [26].

 
222 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

B. Papilledema
Mathews (2011) referred to the similarity between space-induced vision
degradation and the terrestrial eye problem known as papilledema [27]. Mathews
(2011) noted, “The condition is believed to be caused by increased spinal fluid
pressure on the head and eyes due to microgravity, although the exact cause is
uncertain” [28].

5. QUANTIFICATION OF SPACEFARER VISION PROBLEMS

A few estimates or frequency counts of the number of spacefarers with vision


problems can be entertained at this point. A NASA document (2012) reported
that, “Approximately 20 % of astronauts living on the International Space Station
have reported post-flight vision changes” [29]. A CBC News story, “Space Flight
Linked to Eye, Brain Problems,” reported a NASA survey of 300 spacefarers and
found that 48% of those who had been on extended missions and 23% of the
short-term spacefarers had seriously suboptimal vision [30].

What about post-space vision? Diep (2013) claimed, “About one in five astronauts
report vision changes after space missions” [31]. Carreau (2013) noted that,
“Nineteen ISS astronauts have developed symptoms of impaired vision since the
ailment was first recognized in 2005” [32]. The Kramer study remains the
benchmark research on this subject. Matthews (Orlando Sentinel) and Cowling
(NASA) reported the main data in exactly the same terms [33]. Astronauts who had
been on two-week space deployments manifested a 30% rate of vision degradation,
while spacefarers of six months or more had a 60% rate of eye problems [34].

6. SPACEFARER VISION PROBLEMS AFTER RETURNING HOME

An ABC News investigation of space-related vision problems revealed some


startling facts. The story noted that some former astronauts “cannot focus their
eyes properly after they come home, and for some the problem seems permanent”
[35]. “We’ve known about vision changes in orbit but in some cases we’ve
actually found that it can be permanent,” declared Peggy Whitson, who heads the
NASA Astronaut Office [36].

7. PERMANENCE OF DAMAGE

There is an inevitable question about the vision degradation suffered by


spacefarers. Is it permanent or is it temporary and reversible? There is no
consensus on this question.

 
Vision Problems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 223

A. Permanent
In the last few sections we considered the ABC News story and the claim that
some astronauts had suffered permanent eye damage. Similarly, Peggy Whitson
admitted that some vision maladies did not improve [37].

B. Reversible
Research by Mao et al. offered an optimistic finding. She reported, “These
changes (in vision) were after short-term flight and might be reversible or might
deteriorate over time” [38].

8. ONE MONTH VISION DAMAGE THRESHOLD

We have learned that short-term spacefarers still suffer vision problems, but at a
rate half that of long-term space visitors. But how long can a person be in space
before the onset of vision degradation? According to the Discovery Channel,
“Among the astronauts who have spent more than a month in space over their
lifetimes, researchers found a variety of complications” [39].

9. SPACEFARER VISION PROBLEMS ARE IMPORTANT

NASA has manifested concern over the spacefarer vision record. There is an
institutional commitment to regulation of aerospace to guarantee the public safety
and promote the industries involved.

“We are certainly treating this with a great deal of respect,” contended Dr. Rick
Williams, NASA’s chief officer for health and medicine. He added, “This (eye
condition) is comparable to the other risks like bone demineralization (loss) and
radiation that we have to consider” [40]. Carreau (2013) offered a similar
perspective [41].

“NASA has placed this problem high on its list of human risks, has initiated a
comprehensive program to study its mechanisms and implications, and will
continue to closely monitor the situation,” pledged William Tarver, chief of the
Flight Medicine Clinic at the Johnson Space Center [42]. NASA is rightfully
concerned over the health risks in space. The Discovery Channel reported, “The
new eye data on eye problems has many at NASA concerned about the health of
its spaceflight corps” [43].

 
224 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

10. STUDIES ON SPACE VISION PROBLEMS

There has been some scientific study of the vision problems resulting from space
flight. Each of the main studies to date will be reviewed, along with the newly-
launched four year study beginning in 2013.

A. 2011
A NASA study of seven astronauts examined intracranial hypertension as a
function of fluid shift. CBC News reported, “The problems might be caused by
fluid shifting toward the head during extended periods of time in microgravity”
[44].

B. 2012
Twenty former astronauts comprised the sample for another NASA study of space
vision maladies. Urine and blood samples were taken before, during and after the
flight. The science suggested a nutritional explanation for space-induced vision
‘degradation,’ due to the presence of lower levels of folates and higher levels of
metabolites [45].

The Kramer study also took place in 2012. Coghlan (2012) reported on behalf of
the New Scientist that the Kramer study seemed to corroborate previous research
[46].

C. 2013
One 2013 study might be discussed, one that is very interesting and a bit
controversial. It involves animals as experimental subjects in lieu of human data
collection. This Russian experimental study will be considered in detail.

Six mice reportedly volunteered for the space mission [47]. They rocketed to the
ISS in the space shuttle Discovery for a two-week stay [48]. “The mice’s optic
nerves had physical damage,” and there were “increased signs of stress in the cells
in the mice’s eyes” [49]. The stress signs disappeared within seven days of return
from space but the physical damage did not heal that quickly [50].

“The ‘space ark’ mission yielded useful information on the impact of space travel
on the spinal cord, inner ear, and processes at the genetic level” in addition to
vision degradation, contended Vladimir Sychev [51]. A Bion-1 satellite was
launched in April, 2013, on a 30-day mission [52]. Animals included mice,

 
Vision Problems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 225

gerbils, geckos, slugs and snails [53]. Sychev called the mission a success, the
New Scientist reported, “although few of the animals in the satellite returned from
orbit alive” [54].

NASA launched a new study of space vision degradation in 2013. This four-year
study will study a dozen astronauts, with careful pre-mission data collection, in-
flight monitoring, and post-flight follow-up [55].

11. NASA SPACE VISION ACTIVITY

We are mindful of NASA’s interest in addressing the space vision issues. One
way that interest was manifested was the commissioning of the research just
considered. We will now examine other NASA activity regarding the eye
problems caused by microgravity.

A. Asked for Help


When it became apparent that spacefarers were experiencing serious vision
problems, NASA asked for help. Mathews (2011) reported, “The threat of blurred
vision is enough that NASA has asked scores of researchers to study the issue”
[56].

B. NASA Has Space Vision Problems in Hand


In a 2012 publication Larry Kramer asserted that, “NASA has the matter in hand,”
with respect to microgravity-induced vision degradation [57].

C. First Formal Space Vision Study


In 2013 NASA announced the initiation of a four-year program to study astronaut
vision problems. “This is our first formal take at doing a study to document
systematically eye health,” asserted Dr. Christian Otto [58].

D. Special Glasses
Specialized optical technology has been created under NASA auspices to assist
astronauts with their vision in space. NASA “has put special eyeglasses on the
space station to help those affected see what they’re doing” [59].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

 
226 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “New Findings on Astronaut Vision
Loss,” 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.nasa/gov/mission_pages/station/research/
news/vision_changes.html. Accessed 12th March, 2014, p. 1.
[2] SPACE DAILY, “Animal Mission to Space to Give Clues to Astronauts’ Vision Problems,” October
4, 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/_Animal_mission_
to_space_gives_clues_to_astronauts_vision_problems_999.html. Accessed 5th March, 2014. p.1.
[3] SPACE.com., “Spaceflight Bad for Astronaut’s Vision, Study Suggests,” March 13, 2012. [Online].
Available: http://www.space.com/14876-astronaut-spaceflight--vision-problems.html. Accessed 5th
March, 2014, p. 1.
[4] M.K. Matthews, “Blurred Vision Plagues Astronauts Who Spend Months in Space,” Septem- ber 12,
2011. [Online]. Available: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-09-19/news/os--blind--nasa-
astronaut-20110919_1_unnamed-astronaut-garrett-reisman-international-space-station. Accessed 14th
March, 2014, p. 1.
[5] A. Coghlan, “Space is Bad for Astronaut’s Eyes,” NewScientist, March 4, 2012. [Online]. Available:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21585-space-is-bad-for-astronauts-
eyes.html#.UyEDLT9dWtM. Accessed 14th March, 2014, p. 1.
[6] K. Cowling, “Researching Changes to Astronaut Vision in Space,” SpaceRef. December 12, 2013.
[Online]. Available: http://www.spaceref.com/2013/12/12/researching-changes-to-astronauts-in-
space.html. Accessed 12th March, 2014, p. 1.
[7] “Space Travel Has Negative Effects on Human Body,” BLOUIN NEWS: Science & Health, January
28, 2104. [Online]. Accessed: http://www.blouinnews.scienceandhealth.com/articles/html. Accessed
5th March, 2104, p. 1.
[8] Center for Radiological Research, “Space Travel.” 2014. [Online]. Available: March 5, 2014
http://www.curric_columbia.edu/crr/research/areasresearch/space-travel. p.1.
[9] The Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems Common in Astronauts,” 2004. [Online]. Available:
http://news.discovery.com/space/html. Accessed 22nd March 2014, p. 1.
[10] M. Carreau, “Station Astronauts Begin Studying Troubling Vision Issues,” Aviation Week, June 7,
2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.aviationweek.com/articles/2013/06/07/html. Accessed 12th
March 2014, p. 2.
[11] Cowling, “Researching Changes,” p. 2.
[12] Cowling, “Researching Changes,” p. 2.
[13] Cowling, “Researching Changes,” p. 2.
[14] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 1.
[15] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 1.
[16] NASA, “New Findings,” p. 1.
[17] NASA, “New Findings,” p. 1.
[18] Carreau, “Station Astronauts,” p. 2.
[19] Carreau, “Station Astronauts,” p. 2.
[20] Coghlan, “Space is Bad,” p. 1.
[21] SPACE.com., “Spaceflight Bad,” p. 2.
[22] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 2.
[23] SPACE.com., “Spaceflight Bad,” pp. 2-3.
[24] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 2.
[25] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 2.
[26] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 1.
[27] Matthews, “Blurred,” p. 1.
[28] Matthews, “Blurred,” p. 1.

 
Vision Problems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 227

[29] NASA, “New Findings,” p. 1.


[30] CBC News, “Space Flight Linked to Eye, Brain Problems,” March 13, 2002. [Online]. Available:
http://www.cbc.ca/news-technology/space-flight-linked-to-eye-brain-problems-1.1175736. Accessed
12th March, 2014, p. 1.
[31] F. Diep, “Astronauts and Mice Return From Space with Altered Eyes,” Popular Science, October 25,
2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.popsci.com/articles/science/astronauts-and-mice-return-space-
altered-eyes. Accessed 12th March 2014, p. 2.
[32] Carreau, “Station Astronauts,” p. 1.
[33] Matthews, “Blurred,” p. 1; Cowling, “Researching Changes,” p. 1.
[34] N. Potter, and G. Sunseri, “NASA Astronauts’ Eyesight Damaged by Long Space Flights,” ABC
News, March 13, 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.abcnews.go.com/Technology/space-station-
astronauts-eyesight-affected-long-stays-orbit/story/?id=15904338. Accessed 5th March 2014, p. 1.
[35] Potter and Sunseri, “Eyesight Damaged,” p. 1.
[36] Potter and Sunseri, “Eyesight Damaged,” p. 1.
[37] Potter and Sunseri, “Eyesight Damaged,” p. 1.
[38] Cowling, “Researching Changes,” p. 2.
[39] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 1.
[40] Matthews, “Blurred,” p. 2.
[41] Carreau, “Station Astronauts,” p. 1.
[42] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 2.
[43] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 2.
[44] CBC News, “Eye, Brain,” p. 1.
[45] Coghlan, “Space is Bad,” p. 1.
[46] Discovery Channel, “Eye Problems,” p. 2.
[47] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 1.
[48] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 1.
[49] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 1.
[50] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 1.
[51] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 1.
[52] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 2.
[53] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 2.
[54] SPACEDAILY, “Animal Mission,” p. 2.
[55] Carreau, “Station Astronauts,” p. 1.
[56] Matthews, “Blurred,” p. 1.
[57] Coghlan, “Space is Bad,” p. 1.
[58] Carreau, “Station Astronauts,” p. 2.
[59] Matthews, “Blurred,” p. 2.

 
228 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 228-239

CHAPTER 21

Mental Health
Abstract: The mental health aspects of space travel were considered in this chapter. Space
psychology was defined and explained. Mental health issues such as isolation, loneliness,
confinement, sensory deprivation, close quarters, and separation from family were
discussed. Causes of mental health issues included the stressful nature of space, the
operational mission environment, psychosocial factors, interpersonal and intercultural
issues, and any CNS stimuli. Consequences of space travel include asthenia and crew
performance problems. The significance of space-related mental health problems was
documented. Solutions to space-induced mental health problems were considered.

Keywords: Anxiety, asthenia, Bartlett Discussion on Space Architecture,


central nervous system, confinement, Dartmouth College, depression, fatigue,
interpersonal, isolation, operational mission environment, psychiatric disorders,
psychosis, psychosocial, Salyut IV, sensory deprivation, space psychology,
Virtual Space Station.

1. INTRODUCTION

Outer space is a frightening place. The space environment is fraught with the
unknown and the unfamiliar. It is decidedly dangerous and relatively unforgiving.
Yet some people choose to sojourn to space, and the danger might be part of the
attraction. This might lead to internal conflict, as some spacefarers might be
simultaneously terrified and thrilled by the extraterrestrial environment.

Mental health issues are, of course, very important to spacefarers and successful
space travel. It is true that the human mind is the center of our existence.
Cognitive and affective behavior, as well as perception and sensation, occur
through the brain. This chapter will explore the psychological and mental health
ramifications of space travel.

2. DEFINITION OF SPACE PSYCHOLOGY

What is involved in outer space mental health and psychology? Is there a nexus
between the space environment and mental health discipline? We might examine
a couple of perspectives on this relatively new academic discipline.

An important contribution to the space psychology literature was provided by M.


Ephimia Morphew. In “Psychological and Human Factors in Long Duration

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Mental Health Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 229

Spaceflight,” Morphew (2001) suggested, “The newly emerging discipline of


space psychology involves the application of psychological and behavioral
principles to the support of crew health and well- being before, during, and after
space flights” [1]. Ruff (1961) provided another take on the nature of space
psychology in his article, “Psychological Effects of Space Flight.” He noted,
“Psychological effects of space flight may arise from central nervous system
changes produced by psychological stress or from emotional reactions to various
aspects of the flight” [2].

3. SPACE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

There are numerous aspects of the spaceflight experience that might make the
space environment less than inviting from a mental health perspective. Space
travel is not a luxury experience. We might examine about a half-dozen of the
specific space travel mental health challenges.

A. Multitude of Issues
It makes sense that there is more than one mental health challenge involved in
spacefaring. In a sense space travel is a frontier activity, and the frontier has never
been a comfortable place physically or psychologically. Morphew (2001)
observed, “Long-duration spaceflight has revealed a multitude of psychological,
physiological, psychosocial and environmental-interface challenges to crews
operating within them” [3].

A comparable list of space-induced psychological and mental health concerns was


reported by the Discovery Channel, “Long-term isolation, monotony, limited
mobility and living in close quarters with other astronauts could lead to
depression, interpersonal conflicts, anxiety, insomnia and even psychosis” [4].

B. Isolation
There is a strong sense of being isolated in space. The sensation and perception is
entirely rational. After all, with the exception of a few colleagues on a space trip,
a spacefarer is very isolated from anyone else.

“Isolation and confinement pose a challenge to the performance of crews living


and working in environments including space stations,” Morphew asserted [5].
Berinstein (2001) mentioned isolation as one of the major mental health
challenges confronting space travelers [6]. Ruff (1961) described the space travel-
induced isolation problem before anyone had sojourned to space:
230 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

The chief psychological problems will be isolation and prolonged exposure


to danger. Beginning with isolation, it is apparent that we are dealing with a
many-sided problem. One aspect is ‘aloneness,’ or the feeling of separation
from other people. Another is separation by physical distance. A third is
“cultural,” isolation. Where the individual feels cut off from his society.
Still another aspect is removal from familiar surroundings. Most people
must maintain meaningful relationships with other individuals and with the
society in which they live [7].

The Bartlett Discussion on Space Architecture also realized the significance of the
isolation problem in space, “The isolation of individually-manned spacecraft will
have to be addressed with the environment and with communication systems” [8].
“Long-term isolation” was perceived as a threat to spacefarer mental health by the
Discovery Channel [9].

C. Confinement
Confinement seems to be naturally associated with isolation. Morphew (2001)
referred to “isolation and confinement” as a tandem or related pair of space
environmental factors [10]. Zind (2009) mentioned “confinement for long periods
with a small group of co-workers” [11]. Harrison (2001) emphasized one bottom
line fact, “Spaceflight environments are confined environments” [12].

D. Sensory Deprivation
Ruff (1961) was concerned with “the problem of sensory deprivation.” He added,
“If the quantity and variety of sensory input are too low, disturbances in
perception and thought will occur” [13].

E. Loneliness
The inherent “loneliness” of space travel was realized by the Bartlett Discussion
on Space Architecture [14]. Ruff (1961) added, “One aspect is ‘aloneness’ or the
feeling of separation from other people” [15].

F. Separation from Loved Ones


It is one thing to be confined in a small space for a long time with co-workers.
That is bad enough. But a separate dimension of this scenario is that spacefarers
miss the people they care about on the Earth. Zind (2009) observed, “There are
psychological challenges, as well, brought on by separation from family” [16].
Mental Health Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 231

Harrison (2001) suggested that spacefarers might feel “a sense of being left out;
for example, of being prevented from taking part in important family events” [17].

G. Close Quarters
We might consider a final mental health challenge posed by the space experience,
close quarters. Spacecraft are relatively small and there is not much room.
Anderson and Piven (2005) referred to the fact that, “The space station’s close
quarters can exacerbate personality differences and lead to conflict” [18]. “Life in
space also means living with a distinct lack of space. The ISS is vastly larger than
any previous space structure, but even so it is no mansion,” observed a publication
by the ESA [19]. “Their living quarters are pretty cramped, and they must share
them with their fellow crew members for months at a time” [20].

4. CAUSES OF SPACE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

A variety of aspects of the space environment might be problematic for


spacefarers. In this section seven such possible sources of mental health
discomfort will be considered.

A. Space is Stressful
Outer space is dangerous. If anything goes awry with life-support technology like
spacecraft and spacesuits the options are few and not especially encouraging, as
Anderson and Piven (2003) noted, “Space can be a very stressful environment” [21].

B. Operational Mission Environment


Spacefarers, with the exception of space tourists, are in space for professional
reasons. They are task-oriented and concerned with accomplishing their mission.
But that mission itself may be a source of psychological discomfort.

Morphew (2001) discussed the notion of operational mission environment:

The operational mission environment includes the conditions in which


the crew must operate. The characteristics of the operational mission
environment can include periods of exceptionally high workload, fatigue,
chronic noise, stress, temperature changes, lack of privacy, and isolation.
These factors can and often have produced performance changes.
232 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Given the realization of these factors as characterizing the mission


environment at times, space psychologists work to design support
systems and countermeasures that will aid crew members when these
effects are experienced [22].

C. Psychosocial Stressors
The existence of psychosocial sources of stress should not be overlooked.
Morphew (2010) suggested that, “Russian and American experience has revealed
the importance of the psychosocial or interpersonal stressors associated with long-
duration spaceflight” [23].

D. Intercultural Factors
A survey was conducted about the cultural variable in spaceflight. Forty-two
“flight incidents related to multicultural factors” were identified. Five of these
incidents “were rated as having a high mission impact” [24].

E. Interpersonal Factors
The interpersonal dimension of human interaction is a basic and fundamental
aspect of life. Ruff (1961) stated that, “When more than one person is isolated,
problems of interpersonal relationships arise. Because of limitations on the size of
the crew compartment, space vehicles will involve closer association between
people than during operations of other kinds” [25]. Anderson and Piven (2003)
concluded that on long-term space missions personality differences could explode
into ineffective interpersonal relationships [26].

F. Any CNS Stimuli


The outer space environment is so dissimilar to that of the Earth that there are
numerous potential stimuli for the central nervous system (CNS). One study
specified these potential stressors: acceleration and deceleration, noise, extreme
temperature variations, vibration, radiation, toxic fuel, and issues with oxygen,
food or sanitary facilities [27].

G. Duration Exacerbates Space Mental Health Issues


The length of time spent in space seems to be a variable in mental health issues.
Mission duration is positively correlated to mental health issues—the longer the
duration, the more likely are mental health issues.
Mental Health Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 233

“During the first three days of work in orbit we did not notice any changes,”
former Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Gubarev recalled of his tenure on Salyut-4. But,
after “a few days we began to feel nervous. Sometimes we had different feelings
about the same developments. Soon I noticed that Georgi began to lose self-
control and that he was highly-strung” [28].

Leroy Choi is a veteran of several NASA spaceflights. He noticed the duration


variable in spaceflight length. “On the one to two week shuttle flights it’s like a
camping trip. When you’re on a six-and-a-half month mission, there’s no doubt
you’re away from home” [29].

5. CONSEQUENCES OF SPACE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES


A. Asthenia & Fatigue
The consequences of space-induced mental health concerns are significant, both
to the individual bearing the burden and to the mission as a task to be
accomplished. Morphew (2001) described the consequences to the individual:

While few performance decrements have been noted to occur during


short missions (7 to 12 days) longer duration flights (4+ months) have
revealed a tendency for astronauts to develop symptoms of cumulative
fatigue and asthenia. Asthenia is generally characterized by abnormal
fatigue, weakness, emotional lability, irritability and minor disorders of
attention and memory. Although these symptoms rarely reach clinical
levels, they have resulted in instances of impaired performance capacity,
significant conflict among crew members, and errors in performing
operational tasks, thus constituting a risk factor for the safety and
functioning of crew members, as well as mission success [30].

B. Crew Performance Issues


The mental health and behavioral consequences of spaceflight are worthy of our
consideration. The gravity and seriousness of the psychological effects of the
space environment are considerable. Morphew (2001) provided a list of the task
performance and human functioning problems:

1) Exhaustion and Asthenia: fatigue, feeling of isolation, emotional


instability, sleeplessness, Sharpening of personality, incapacity for
work, disruption in psychophysiological reactions, and psychosomatic
disruption, Euphoria,
234 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

2) Depression,

3) Neurosis,

4) Accentuation of negative personality traits,


5) Cognitive traits: psychomotor performance, dual-task performance,
tracking performance, fine manual control, sleep decrement induced
cognitive factors; alertness, vigilance, response time, ability to focus [31].
6. SIGNIFICANCE OF SPACE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
A. U.S. Government Admits
“The U.S. space program is now acknowledging that psychological factors are
critical for supporting the health, well-being and performance of flight crews and
increasing mission safety and success,” Morphew concluded [32].

B. One of Three Most Significant Space Problems


Jay Buckey is an M.D. and professor at Dartmouth College. He noted that,
“Psycho-social factors are one of the three major barriers to successful long
duration space flight. The other two are bone and muscle loss and radiation. But
psycho-social factors are right up there as being a key barrier. They can take a
mission down” [33].

7. SOLUTIONS TO SPACE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

It is apparent by now that the space environment can produce or exacerbate


mental health problems. The important thing is to research and produce
countermeasures appropriate to psychological issues in the space milieu. The
importance of on-the-ground, pre-flight proactive mental health assistance cannot
be overstated. It may well be true that the most important steps to enhance the
space psychology comfort level of spacefarers will take place on the Earth, prior
to lift-off. Ruff (1961) asserted, “When we have done all we can do to minimize
undesirable psychological effects before the mission starts, we must briefly
consider what we on the ground can do to observe our traveler and further assist
in the success of his/her journey” [34].

A. Selection
“Methods are currently being developed and validated which attempt to select-in
psychologically fit crew members,” Morphew noted [35]. The NASA Behavior
Mental Health Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 235

and Performance Group conducted research that identified the personality


variables sought in spacefarers, including agreeableness, empathy,
conscientiousness, sociability and flexibility, which were “positively correlated
with astronaut performance under stressful conditions, teamwork, group living,
motivation and decision-making” [36].

Selection processes are similarly emphasized in the Russian space program.


Grachov and Kozin (2012) observed, “Psychological compatibility is determined
by many factors, such as character, perception of the world, inner culture and
even age. Taking account of these factors specialists worked out
recommendations and special tests for selection of spaceship crew members” [37].

B. Training
Training is the second of the three main ways to provide mental health assistance
to spacefarers in a proactive manner. One source alleged that, “Psychological
training focuses on developing skills for coping with the stressors of the
spaceflight environment and for interacting with fellow crew members as well as
with ground personnel.” This training also encompasses instruction in leadership,
culture, interpersonal communication and working in isolated and confined
environments [38].

C. In-Flight
Morphew (2001) explained the nuances of in-flight mental health assistance. “In-
flight psychological support includes; 1) ground-based monitoring of the
psychological, cognitive and emotional state of crewmembers by flight
psychiatrists and psychologists, 2) the provision of entertainment (e.g. video,
games, books, special items) leisure activities, and opportunities to communicate
with the ground (i.e. with family and loved ones) and 3) care of the families of
astronauts on the ground to help compensate for the effects of a missing spouse or
person created by the astronaut’s absence” [39].

D. Screening and Training Prevents In-Flight Problems


It is possible that the mental health stressors encountered in space will not be as
dangerous for spacefarers, because of the on-the-ground preparation and
psychological training. Zind (2009) suggested, “Buckey says that astronauts are
probably less prone to psychological problems than most other professions—
thanks to screening and training” [40].
236 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

E. Virtual Space Station


A cutting-edge computerized mental health tool has been developed, called the
Virtual Space Station (VSS). The VSS is programmed to be a self-guided system
for self-diagnosis and treatment. When accessed the VSS tells users, “Welcome to
the Virtual Space Station where you can access training and resources to help you
deal with the stresses of long-duration space flight” [41].

F. Countermeasures Widely Used


Several nations at the present time have substantial interest and experience in
space operations. Numerous countries have researched and developed mental
health countermeasures. A list of these countries includes the U.S., Russia, Japan
and Canada. And then of course there is the European Space Agency [42].

G. New Medical and Academic Specializations


Necessity is the mother of invention, it was said. This cliché may well ring true
with respect to the study of space environmental factors. New academic and
medical specializations have arisen due to space operations. These include space
psychology [43].

H. Environmental Solutions
The psychological needs of spacefarers might be met and their comfort levels
enhanced through environmental design and architecture. The Bartlett Discussion on
Space Architecture suggested that the isolated and lonely nature of space might be
addressed by environmental and communication solutions. “To avoid disorientation,
buildings able to maintain their own life cycles, mimicking the diurnal Earth patterns
of sleeping and waking, and which can recycle water and organic products, will be
necessary to pacify their inhabitants psychologically” [44].

Lee (2000) suggested at the Bartlett Discussion on Space Architecture that,


“building habitation in space” might remedy space problems like claustrophobia,
lack of space and inability to travel freely [45].

8. HISTORICAL SPACE MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

The extant record of spaceflight has been sanitized of much detailed information
about mental health incidents in space. Meaningful detailed information about
serious psychiatric and psychological disorders is not available at the present
time. But a few tantalizing tidbits can be considered.
Mental Health Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 237

“Though special efforts were taken to form space crews, not all space flights were
as good,” recalled Grachov and Kozin [46]. They added, “The psychological
compatability tests on the ground did not always ensure good relations in orbit. In
one case the commander did not like it when the Mission Control Center talked to
the Flight Engineer more often than to him. In another case the commander let his
colleague take over the leadership, because he realized that the other was better
trained and more experienced” [47].

Berinstein (2002) discussed the American astronaut mental health track record.
She observed, “Sleep quality can be low, and people can become touchy and
easily confused. They also can exhibit poor judgment. In such an environment,
mental health might be precarious and people can turn on each other” [48].
Berinstein (2002) added, “More than ten per cent of participants developed
serious adaptation problems, and up to three per cent experienced psychiatric
disorders like depression” [49]. “A number of psychological problems that have
occurred in space” was mentioned by Zeigler and Meck [50].

9. SPACE AS TRANSFORMATIONAL EXPERIENCE

People around NASA and the space program began to notice a strange
phenomenon somewhere in the 1970s. Astronauts returned from space different
psychologically. This tendency was seen frequently enough to warrant creation of
a nickname, the ‘lunar effect’ [51]. “It was well-known that many astronauts had
profound transformational experiences in space,” according to Zind (2009) [52].
There were twenty-four American astronauts in the late 1960’s and 1970s, and “it
seemed that the majority had powerful peak experiences during their trip and were
permanently transformed as a result” [53].

Edgar Mitchell was a seasoned space veteran who held the spacewalking record at
nine hours and twenty-seven minutes. “He felt an overpowering sense of euphoria
and tranquility, and shifted into a different state of consciousness in which he
perceived the meaning of the universe” [54]. He left NASA within two years of
his return to the Earth and set up the Noetic Institute which was dedicated to his
new love, philosophy [55].

Eugene “Gene” Cernan was an astronaut on the Apollo Ten and Sixteen missions.
Like Mitchell, he had “a similar vision of meaning and purpose” [56]. Cernan told
Mission Control while gazing at the Earth, “It was too beautiful to happen by
238 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

accident. There has to be a creator of the universe who stands above the religions
that we ourselves create” [57].

Rusty Schweikhart felt that he lost his identity as an American astronaut during a
spacewalk, and “part of everyone and everything sweeping past me below” [58].
When he returned to the Earth he began to practice transcendental meditation, and he
initiated efforts to volunteer at a drug rehabilitation clinic and a suicide hotline [59].

Four suggestions have been offered to explain the lunar effect. These include;
“After seeing the fragility of Earth in space, astronauts no longer take things for
granted. The enormity of space gives them a wider sense of perspective. They
become less egocentric, less focused on their own desires and needs and seeing
the universe stretching endlessly around them gives them a sense of unity and
meaning which has never left them” [60].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] M.E. Morphew, “Psychological and Health Factors in Long-Term Spaceflight,” McGill Journal of
Medicine, vol. 6, p. 77, 2001.
[2] G.E. Ruff, “Psychological Effects of Space Flight,” Aerospace Medicine, p. 639, July 1961.
[3] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 79.
[4] The Discovery Channel, “Known Effects of Long-Term Space Flight on the Human Body,” 2013.
[Online]. Available: http://www.racetomars.ca/mars/article_effects.jsp. 5th March 2014, p. 2.
[5] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 76.
[6] P. Berinstein, Making Space Happen. Medford, New Jersey: Plexus Publishing, 2002, p. 89.
[7] Ruff, “Psychological Effects,” pp. 639-40.
[8] The Bartlett Symposium on Space Architecture, “Space Architecture,” Architectural Digest, vol. 27,
no. 2, p. 90, March 2001.
[9] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects,” p. 2.
[10] S. Zind, “Computer Program Targets Psychological Effects of Space Travel,” Vermont Public Radio,
April 14, 2009. [Online]. Available: http://www/pr.net/news_detail/84891/computer-program--
targets-psychological-effects-spa/. Accessed 6th March, 2014, p. 1.
[11] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 76.
[12] A.A. Harrison, Spacefaring: The Human Factor. Berkeley, California: University of California Press,
2001, p. 28.
[13] Ruff, “Psychological Effects,” p. 640.
[14] Bartlett Symposium, “Space Architecture,” p. 79.
[15] Ruff, “Psychological Effects,” p. 640.
Mental Health Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 239

[16] Zind, “Computer,” 1.


[17] Harrison, Spacefarers, p. 28.
[18] E. Anderson, and J. Piven, The Space Tourist’s Handbook. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2005, p. 137.
[19] European Space Agency, “Living in Space,” November 12, 2012. [Online]. Available:
http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Astronauts/Living_in_space. Accessed 5th
March, 2014, p. 1.
[20] ESA, “Living,” p. 1.
[21] Anderson and Piven, Handbook, p. 137.
[22] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 79.
[23] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 76.
[24] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 76.
[25] Ruff, “Psychological Effects,” p. 640.
[26] Anderson and Piven, Handbook, p. 137.
[27] Ruff, “Psychological Effects,” p. 639.
[28] A. Grachov, and S. Kozin, “Space Travel Problems: Psychological Compatibility of the Crew
Members During Outer Space Travel,” 2012. [Online]. Available: http://spacefeelings.com/space-
travel-psychologcal-compatability--problems-2.shtml. Accessed 5th March, 2014, p. 1.
[29] Zind, “Computer,” p. 3.
[30] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 76.
[31] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 76.
[32] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 79.
[33] Zind, “Computer,” p. 2.
[34] Ruff, “Psychological Effects,” p. 641.
[35] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 77.
[36] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 2.
[37] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 77.
[38] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 77.
[39] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 77.
[40] Zind, “Computer,” p. 4.
[41] Zind, “Computer,” p. 3.
[42] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 77.
[43] Morphew, “Long-Term,” p. 79.
[44] Bartlett, “Architecture,” p. 90.
[45] S. Lee, “Fashioning Space,” Architectural Digest, vol. 70, no. 2, p. 43, March 2000.
[46] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 3.
[47] Grachov and Kozin, “Travel Problems,” p. 3.
[48] Berinstein, Making Space, p. 89.
[49] Berinstein, Making Space, p. 89.
[50] M.J. Zeigler, and J.V. Meck, “Physical and Psychological Challenges of Space Travel: An
Overview,” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 63, no. 6, p. 2, December 2001.
[51] S. Taylor, “The Lunar Effect: The Psychology of Space Travel,” Psychology Today, September 3,
2011. [Online]. Available: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201109/the-
lunar-effect-the-psychology-space-travel. Accessed 6th March 2014, p. 1.
[52] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 1.
[53] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 1.
[54] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 1.
[55] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 1.
[56] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 1.
[57] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 1.
[58] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 1.
[59] Taylor, “Lunar,” pp. 1-2.
[60] Taylor, “Lunar,” p. 2.
240 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 240-248

CHAPTER 22

Cardiovascular System
Abstract: This chapter dealt with the three aspects of the cardiovascular system; the
heart, veins and arteries, and blood. The negative consequences of microgravity upon
the heart were documented, including arrhythmia, cardiac deconditioning, hypertension,
cardiac atrophy, diminished cardiac functioning, and impaired orthostatic response. A
few solutions to space-induced cardiac conditions were discussed. The vascular system
is also negatively impacted by the space environment, it was documented. Damage to
the endothelium was described as was the damage to blood vessels from microgravity.
It was documented that radiation damages both cerebral arteries and the heart itself.
Microgravity reduces blood plasma levels, along with blood levels, red blood cell
volume, and the health of white blood cells, it was suggested. Microgravity promotes
the viscosity of blood. It was documented that the effects of the space environment on
human blood closely parallel those produced by aging.

Keywords: Arrhythmia, atheriosclerosis, atrophy, Brookhaven National Laboratory,


cardiovascular, deconditioning, diminished cardiac functioning, endothelium,
hormonal psychology, hypertension, microhemorraghes, orthostatic response, plasma,
postural hypertension, Russian Radio, serum plasma, UAB News, vascular, viscosity.

1. INTRODUCTION

The cardiovascular system must function efficiently for human good health to be
achieved. The heart, veins, arteries ans blood are  absolutely critical elements of
the human body. Unfortunately the space environment is not a friendly place to
the cardiovascular system.

The human heart is subjected to a variety of dysfunctions in space. Cardiac


atrophy is possible, as is cardiac arrhythmia. Deconditioning of the heart can
occur, along with impaired orthostatic response, diminished cardiac functioning
and hypertension. The vascular system suffers in space, also, as the endothelium
is damaged in space travel. The cerebral artery in addition is gravely affected,
resulting in intracranial hypertension. Blood vessels are also damaged by
microgravity. Blood is affected by space in several ways. The volume of plasma,
blood and red blood cells all decrease and white blood cells are damaged.

2. THE HEART
The human heart cannot really be broken by bad romantic luck but it can be
adversely affected by the space environment. Several serious cardiac conditions
Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Cardiovascular System Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 241

can be caused by space. We will consider a variety of space effects on the heart
along with some solutions.

A. Space Affects Cardiovascular System


Setlow (2003) observed “serious damage to the cardiovascular system” in space
[1]. Zeigler and Meck (2001) noted, “Weightlessness rapidly alters cardiovascular
and hormonal physiology” [2]. Scientific American warned that, “The details of
these cardiovascular changes and risks are not yet completely known” [3].

“The cardiovascular impact of galactic cosmic radiation” was mentioned by


ScienceDaily [4]. Zhang et al. concluded, “As a direct consequence of exposure to
microgravity” the human body suffers “progressive changes in the cardiovascular
and musculoskeletal systems” [5].

B. Cardiac Atrophy
In the absence of normal terrestrial gravity the heart does not have to work as
hard. For that reason it can diminish in size. Van Pelt (2005) observed that, “The
amount of heart tissue begins to shrink” [6]. The scientific name for this condition
is atrophy [7].

C. Puffy Head Syndrome


The National Space Biomedical Research Center has investigated the space
environmental effects on the heart. NSBRI has recognized that fluid shift occurs
in the human body in space, away from the lower part of the body and to the head
and upper body. The result? “A puffy face” [8]. The Canadian Space Agency
referred to this condition as “the puffy face syndrome” [9]. The veins and arteries
in the neck stand out, eyes become swollen and red, and nasal congestion and
headaches may ensue. Scientific American reported on “puffiness in the face
during flight as well as changes in cardiovascular functioning” [10].

D. Cardiac Deconditioning
Under some conditions, like bed rest or other causes for a sedentary lifestyle,
there is a reduced level of cardiovascular effort. In reduced-gravity environments
like during bed rest or time spent in space the heart does not have to work as hard.
The NSBRI observed, “This could lead to deconditioning, and a decrease in the
size of the heart” [11]. Morphew (2001) referred to the danger of space-induced
“cardiovascular deconditioning” [12].

 
242 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

E. Increased Risk of Heart Disease


“Increased risk of certain heart problems” was alluded to by Kim (2012) [13]. In a
similar vein, Marks (2004) referred to the “myriad ailments” caused by the space
environment, including “those of the heart, blood and digestive tract” [14].

F. Arrhythmia
The heart is a muscle, the most powerful one in the human body. It has a normal
rhythm, an electrically-governed natural rate of pumping. It is a serious matter
when that cardiac rhythm is disturbed.

“Moreover, there are other cardiovascular effects, such as cardiac arrhythmia,”


according to Setlow (2003) [15]. Scientific American agreed, and added, “The heart
is a unique muscle, and the possible occurrence of heart rhythm disturbances are
concerns faced during space flight” [16].

G. Diminished Cardiac Functioning


When the heart fails to effectively pump blood throughout the body, that is cause for
great concern. Death would be merely a matter of time. Yet that may be a
consequence of the space environment—diminished cardiac functioning. An online
source suggested, “Cardiovascular function has also been found to be negatively
affected by space flight” [17]. The Scientific American article added that,
“diminished cardiac functioning” is a possible consequence of spaceflight [18].

H. Impaired Orthostatic Response


When a person’s blood pressure rises upon standing that is known as impaired
orthostatic response. And the problem is that astronauts experience this medical
malady after they return to the Earth. One source noted, “Upon return to Earth,
some astronauts experience impaired orthostatic response, which means that their
blood pressure drops abnormally low when they move from lying down to a
sitting or standing position” [19].

I. Hypertension
Hypertension is dangerously high blood pressure. It is believed that the microgravity
environment in space exacerbates hypertension. Setlow (2003) warned of this medical
situation where the body is unable to maintain the appropriate blood pressure [20].
Rowe (2005) noted that there is a hypertension incidence of approximately 25% in the
general population, frequently unknown to the patient [21].

 
Cardiovascular System Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 243

J. Blood Pressure
On the one hand, hypertension is high blood pressure, which can be dangerous.
On the other hand if blood pressure is too low there may be negative
consequences, as well. The National Academy of Sciences (2014) mentioned that,
“Two-thirds of astronauts tested after flights showed an inability to maintain
adequate blood pressure” [22]. Zeigler and Meck (2003) referred to this as
“postural hypertension” [23].

K. Solutions to Space-Induced Cardiac Problems


What can be done to alleviate or lessen the cardiac degradation caused by travel in
space? Harrison (2001) recommended “vigorous exercise” as the best remedy for
space-induced cardiac problems. But there is also a technological solution, “a
lower-body negative-pressure device,” that works like a blood-pressure cuff to
redistribute fluids away from the head and torso [24].

3. THE BLOOD
Human blood and related substances were not designed for the extraterrestrial
environment. It appears that microgravity causes blood problems and reduces the
volume of blood plasma, blood, and red blood cells. And the negative consequences
of the space environment on blood mirror the effects of aging on blood.

A. Microgravity Causes Blood Problems


Marks noted the possibility of blood degradation in the space environment [25].
Faqs.org. observed that, “While this loss is significant (about ten per cent to
fifteen per cent below preflight levels), it seems to be simply an adaptation to
spaceflight” [26].

B. Microgravity Endangers Heart Patients


Dr. Melchor Antunano was an aerospace physician at the FAA. He cautioned
heart patients to avoid space travel because “microgravity poses a significant
hazard to them” due to fluid shift and blood flow in the upper torso and head [27].

C. Fluid Shift Stresses the Heart


Berinstein provided a detailed analysis of the biomedical hazards in space. She
noted that the aforementioned fluid shift results in the heart being inundated and
overwhelmed by excess blood and fluids [28].

 
244 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

D. Geomagnetic Radiation Causes Blood Viscosity


The microgravity environment is responsible for much of the cardiovascular
system degradation. However, geomagnetic forces in space are also harmful,
specifically with respect to the viscosity of blood. According to Russian Radio, “It
appears that the higher the geomagnetic activity, the more viscous the blood”
[29].

E. Plasma Volume Decreases in Space


“Plasma volume has diminished considerably,” according to Zeigler and Meck
(2003) [30]. Harrison (2001) quantified the reduction in plasma volume, “blood
plasma volume decreases by about 12 per cent” [31].Van Pelt (2005) estimated
that the blood plasma reduction might be approximately 20% [32]. Harrison
(2001) observed “a fairly rapid loss in plasma volume” [33].

F. Blood Volume Decreases in Space


We already know that blood plasma is affected by the space environment. The
same is true of the volume of blood. “Loss of blood volume” was recalled by a
Scientific American report [34]. Space sojourners might have to contend with “a
loss of blood volume” [35].

G. Red Blood Cells Decrease in Space


There is a name for having a low red blood cell count, transient post-flight
anemia. Low red blood cells are characteristic of space travelers [36]. “A decrease
in the mass of red blood cells (i.e., the total amount of blood in the body), is also a
consistent finding after short- and long-term spaceflight” [37]. “The red blood cell
count decreases,” Van Pelt (2005) added [38].

Research conducted on Soviet and American space travelers produced significant


and sobering results. On average astronauts and cosmonauts lost one-half a liter of
red blood cells in space. The change was attributed to altered spleen functioning
or microhemorraghes in muscle tissue [39].

H. Loss of Red Blood Cells Explained


The reason there is less red blood cell production in space has to do with the
reduced gravity and the lesser burden on the heart. The body senses that less
blood is needed so less is produced [40].

 
Cardiovascular System Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 245

I. Red Blood Cell Mass Reduced


“Red blood mass” is reduced in space, because of the microgravity environment
[41].

J. Red Blood Cell Decrease Causes Iron Poisoning


When new red blood cells are destroyed by the body because they are not needed,
iron is released from the chemical reaction and stored in the body. “Too much
iron may be harmful,” it was noted [42].

K. White Blood Cell Damage


Harrison (2001) reported on the effects of the space environment on white blood
cells. “Analysis of white blood cells and serum proteins shows that space induces
changes” [43].

4. THE VASCULAR SYSTEM


A. Space-Induced Blood Vessel Effects Mimic Those of Aging
Microgravity affects the vascular system in a way reminiscent of geriatric
medicine. According to a news release issued by the NASA Ames Flight Research
Center, “Blood vessel changes seen in microgravity may resemble the
cardiovascular changes associated with aging” [44].

B. Space Environment Harms Endothelium


The endothelium is the lining of blood vessels [45]. Experiments with animals has
shown that, “After just 12.5 days in space, experimental animals show injuries of
the endothelium” [46]. “There is also a concern that space radiation may affect
endothelial cells, the lining of blood vessels, which might initiate or accelerate
coronary heart disease” [47].

C. Space Environment Causes Atheriosclerosis


“Cosmic radiation accelerated the development of atherosclerosis, independent of
the cholesterol levels,” contended UABNews [48]. Research conducted at the
Brookhaven National Laboratory found that, “There was involvement of
components in the arterial wall in the biological response to radiation injury” [49].

Janus Kabarowski, the study co-director, described the severity of the space effect
on atherosclerosis, “At thirteen weeks it was surprising and quite remarkable that

 
246 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

we already could see permanent damage—an irreversible thickening of the artery


wall where it had been exposed to radiation” [50].

D. Microgravity Affects Blood Vessels


Blood vessels are relatively fragile things, and they can be affected or damaged by
the microgravity environment of space. The NASA Ames Flight Research Center
noted, “The study of the resulting vascular adaptations will yield essential
information about the basic physiological responses of individual blood vessels”
[51].

E. Micro-Gravity Affects Cerebral Artery


In Chapter Twenty, on vision problems in the space environment, it was explained
that one of the causes of space sleep degradation was arterial failure leading to
intracranial hypertension.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

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248 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[44] United States. NASA Ames Flight Research Center, “NASA AMES FLIGHT RESEARCH TO
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[47] Rowe, “Space Tourism,” p. 1.
[48] UABNews, “Deep-Space Travel Could Create Heart Woes for Astronauts,” April 26, 2001. [Online].
Available: http://www.uab.edu/news/latest/item/1039-deep-space-travel-could-create-heart-woes-for-
astronauts. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[49] UABNews, “Heart Woes,” p. 2.
[50] UABNews, “Heart Woes,” p. 2.
[51] NASA Ames Flight Research Center, “Fundamental Biology,” p. 2.

 
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 249-259 249

CHAPTER 23

Brain & Neurology


Abstract: The brain, neurological and vestibular systems were the subject of this
chapter. Pressure on the brain and astronaut headaches were documented, along with
difficulty in making estimates and judgment. Cognitive impairment was correlated to
the space environment, and Alzheimer’s Disease-like symptoms were noted. A
brain/mental health monitor was described. Space-induced neurological disorders were
discussed and neurodegeneration and neurological consequences of the space
environment were considered. The effect on balance and orientation of the space
environment was documented. The vestibular system was discussed and astronaut
disorientation was documented. The consequences of the space environment on the
vestibular system were discussed.

Keywords: Alzhiemer’s Disease, ampula, cilia, cochlea, cognitive


development, endolymph, equilibrium, Massachusetts General Hospital, McGill
University, neural circuits, neurodegeneration, neurology, neurovestibular, otolith,
saccule, Skylab, spatial, utricle, vestibular system.

1. INTRODUCTION

The human brain is the center of human consciousness. The neurological system
involves the construction of consciousness. And the vestibular system is
responsible for maintaining balance, coordination and spatial orientation. It is
wrong to address these systems individually when they are inherently interrelated,
but we will consider these three aspects of human anatomy in separate sections to
specify the effects of space environment in each case.

This chapter explains the potential destruction of human cognitive ability due to
natural forces in the space environment. It will become evident before long that
the human brain, our neurological mechanism and the vestibular system are all
significantly damaged by the space environment.

2. THE BRAIN

Brain functioning is a significant part of normal human existence. Cognitive


ability underlies most of our everyday life. We rely on our brains from the time
we awaken in the morning until we fall asleep at night. The thought of our brain
not working is truly frightening.

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
250 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

This section will describe the negative consequences to the brain from exposure to
the space environment. Cerebral pressure, headaches, cognitive impairment, and
difficulty in making spatial estimations are consequences of the space
environment.

A. Pressure on Brain
Perhaps the pressure results from the fluid shift that occurs in spacefarers. In any
case, many astronauts have reported a sensation of pressure on their brain.
Discovery Notes noted, “Among the astronauts who spent more than a month in
space over their lifetimes, researchers found a variety of complications that appear
similar to a syndrome caused by unexplained pressure on the brain” [1].

B. Astronaut Headaches
Twelve of the seventeen former astronauts surveyed reported suffering headaches
while in space [2]. They rated their pain as being of “moderate intensity” [3].
BBCNews noted that, “The researchers believe there are a number of reasons why
space travel could cause headaches, the root cause being microgravity” [4].

The astronauts believed that these headaches were independent of the well-known
space sickness syndrome, according to the study conducted at the Leiden
University Medical Center [5]. The study results may actually understate the
incidence of the problem, because “Previous research has shown that astronauts
can be reluctant to reveal all the physical complaints they experience in space, so
the actual incidence may be even higher than our study suggests,” claimed Alla
Vein, the lead researcher [6].

C. Judgment & Estimates Affected


Courtland (2009) noted that, “Now it seems that zero-gravity can also adversely
affect their ability to judge size and distance” [7]. Study participants experienced
ESA-sponsored parabolic flights, and were asked to use a trackball to adjust
drawings [8]. Perceptions were skewed in that estimates were consistently taller,
thinner and shallower than they should have been [9]. The study concluded,
“Astronauts’ problems with perception is a physiological issue, and not a result of
adaptation to enclosed environments” [10].

 
Brain & Neurology Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 251

D. Alzheimer’s Disease-Like Symptoms


The space environment seems to have consequences for spacefarers not unlike the
natural effects of nature, but on a greatly accelerated scale. Not only is space-
induced neurological change similar to Alzheimer’s Disease, it may actually
contribute to or accelerate the development of the terrestrial malady.

The University of Rochester Medical School has investigated this aspect of the
space environment. Dr. Kerry O’Brien, in the Department of Neurobiology and
Anatomy at the medical school, remarked that, “This study shows for the first
time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could
produce cognitive problems and speed up changes of the brain that are associated
with Alzheimer’s disease” [11].

Not only does space-induced neurological disease resemble the terrestrial version, the
space environment may actually increase the chances of the onset of Alzheimer’s
Disease. Forbes noted that, “Exposure to the radiation of outer space could actually
accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease for unfortunate travelers” [12].

E. Cognitive Impairment
The bottom line is quite simple—does the brain work? If someone is not capable
of consistent cognitive functioning they are a broken unit, in terms of productivity
and the workplace. There is evidence that cognitive impairment may be an
unintended consequence of the space environment.

“The mice that were exposed to radiation showed significant cognitive


impairment,” one study found [13].

F. Brain Damage
The human brain is endangered in the microgravity, radiation-laden space
environment. Spacefarers frequently perceive flashes of light behind their eyelids, a
manifestation of cosmic rays slashing through their brains. Consequences of these
cosmic rays include brain damage, immune system degradation, cellular damage and
an elevated risk of brain damage. Other negative effects of cosmic rays include
cataracts, cancer, heart disease and damage to the central nervous system [14].

Cosmic rays are ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation devastates human cells.
Mallove and Matloff (1989) reported that neurons in the spine are destroyed by
ionizing radiation. These neurons are irreplaceable and nonreproducing. It was

 
252 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

estimated that astronauts in the Apollo missions lost between 107 and 104 of their
nonreplaceable cells due to cosmic radiation [15]. Similarly, Heppenheimer
(1979) hypothesized that spacefarers on a three-year trip to Mars could lose ten
per cent of their brain cells during the trip [16]. Berman (2011) suggested that a
two-year Martian trip would result in astronaut brain loss of between thirteen and
forty per cent [17].

G. Brain/Mental Health Monitor


A portable infra-red optical spectroscopy device may be a solution to brain
degradation in space [18]. Gary Strangman, of Massachusetts General Hospital,
was tasked with developing the instrument [19]. Jonathan Clark, of The National
Space Biomedical Research Institute commented, “Although his lab will receive
around $400,000 from NASA’s biomedical arm to develop the brain scanner, the
agency will need proof of its usefulness to greenlight the device for flight” [20].
The scanner or monitor would relay information on astronauts’ mental and
emotional state [21].

3. NEUROLOGY

The neurological dimensions of space travel warrant careful consideration,


because these medical disorders can impact substantially on mission
effectiveness, not to mention the unpleasantness suffered by the spacefarer. This
section will introduce neurological issues arising from space travel.

A. Neurological Disorders
The NASA Ames Research Center (2003) described the possibility of
neurological disorders resulting from the space environment. A news release
notified NASA audiences that, “Blood vessel changes seen in microgravity may
resemble the cardiovascular changes associated with aging, and the short- and
long-term changes in neural structure that occur during adaptation to microgravity
resemble those found in certain neurological disorders” [22].

B. Space Impacts on Balance & Orientation


There is considerable reason to accept the alleged link between microgravity and
impaired spacefarer balance and orientation. Scientific American reported,
“Microgravity also impacts the neurovestibular system-an integrated set of neural
sensory, motor and brain circuits that allows humans to maintain balance, stabilize
vision and understand body orientation in terms of location and direction.

 
Brain & Neurology Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 253

Exposure to microgravity often leads to disorientation and decreased


neuromuscular coordination upon returning from prolonged missions” [23].

“It takes time for the human brain to adjust to new points of reference in space,”
according to the Discovery Channel. The story added that, “Astronauts in space
usually lose their sense of direction and feel uncoordinated or clumsy. Because
inner ear and muscular sensors seek terrestrial clues, astronauts must learn to rely
on visual cues for balance and orientation. But even visual cues can be confusing,
up and down don’t really matter in space like they do on Earth” [24]. Chavis and
Adcock (2010) noted that the otolith is responsible for the maintenance of balance
and equilibrium, but that in space it becomes confused and sends incorrect
information, fails to keep muscles and vision stable, and therefore spacefarers
literally can no longer tell which way is up [25].

C. Neurological Consequences of Space


“There are also several neurological consequences to space flight,” according to
Boni (2012) [26]. She specified, “In one notable experiment, the brains of rats sent
aboard space shuttle Columbia were examined. Compared to the ground controls,
space rats’ brains had significantly fewer connections between neurons” [27].

D. Neurodegeneration
ScienceDaily (2102) reviewed scientific research on the potential neurological
consequences of the space environment. It reported, “The study for the first time
examines the potential impact of space radiation on neurodegeneration” [28].

E. Neurology Operationally Defined


Harrison (2001) observed, “Neurological patterns ingrained in us on Earth are
interrupted in microgravity” [29]. He added that the fluids in our heads and the
otolith mechanism in our inner ear cease operating in space and send unfamiliar
sensory signals, and concluded that, “The information coming from our eyes and
from our balance mechanisms no longer match” [30].

F. Neural Circuit Confusion


The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (2014) suggested that, “On
Earth, a complex, integrated set of neural circuits allows humans to maintain
balance, stabilize vision, and understand body orientation in terms of location and
direction. The brain receives and interprets information from numerous sense

 
254 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

organs, particularly in the eyes, inner ear vestibular organs and the deep senses
from muscles and joints” [31].

Unfortunately, in the space environment this system goes terribly wrong. As the
NSBRI (2014) pointed out, “In space this pattern of information is changed. The
inner ear, which is sensitive to gravity, no longer functions as designed. Early in
the mission, astronauts can experience disorientation, space motion sickness and a
loss of sense of direction. Upon their return to Earth, they must adjust to Earth’s
gravity and can experience problems standing up, stabilizing their gaze and
walking” [32].

4. VESTIBULAR SYSTEM

The vestibular system is not as well known to the general public as the heart and
cardiovascular system, but it is just as necessary. In this section we will learn
about the vestibular system and the subsystems of which it is comprised. The
effect of the space environment on this system will be documented, balance and
orientation issues in particular.

A. The Vestibular System


Several perspectives on the vestibular system will be entertained. The reason is
the complexity of this part of the human anatomy. To facilitate our understanding
of the vestibular system we will consider a quartet of descriptions. The Canadian
Space Agency (2014) noted that the overall sensory system includes three main
components; the visual system, the proprioceptive system and the vestibular
system [33]. Krueger (2000) similarly observed that, “On Earth the relationship
between the body and the environment is dominated by gravity, which is tracked
both by proprioceptive and vestibular sensing” [34].

Kathleen Cullen, a Department of Physiology professor and researcher at McGill


University, offered this description of the vestibular system:
The vestibular system consists of two types of sensors in the ears that detect
either rotational or linear movement. Three semi-circular canals sense
which way the head is turning while sac-like organs, called otoliths, sense
linear movement. The canals and otoliths are filled with fluid. When our
heads move, the motions of these fluids results in the bending of hair-like
structures called cilia, which are attached to cells: this stimulates the cells
and communicates the movements to the brain [35].

 
Brain & Neurology Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 255

We might consider a description of this part of the anatomy from a pilot, someone
who is able to understand the aerodynamic and dynamic flight characteristics and
experiences first-hand. According to “Spatial Disorientation,” from Flight
Medicine:

The anatomy of the vestibular apparatus resides within the bony labyrinth
of the inner ear. Located in the temporal portion of the skull, the cochlea
(the sensory organ for hearing), the vestibule, and the semicircular canals
make up the bony labyrinth. This vestibule is comprised of the otolith
organs, the utricle and saccule, which sense linear acceleration. The
semicircular canals, on the other hand, sense angular and rotation motion
and accelerations of the head. Within the various vestibular end organs is
a fluid called endolymph. Although the actual way in which mechanical
energy in the form of motion and acceleration translates into neural input
is quite complicated,. relative motions and accelerations provoke either
movement of the endolymph and/or other moving parts within the
vestibular apparatus. When these materials move, cilia projections from
sensory receptors called hair cells physically bends,. in this way
mechanical energy from physical motion and position are converted into
a neural signal, which is then transformed by the brain into a spatial map
of one’s orientation [36]. The vestibular system is composed of three
semi-circular canals connected to the utricle and saccule. Collectively the
utricle and saccule are known as the otolith organs. The semicircular
canals are oriented along three planes of movement, with each of the
planes aligned at right angles to the other two [37].

This intricate system terminates in the brain itself. Parts of the vestibular nerve
penetrate the base of each ampula and terminate in a tuft of specialized sensory
hair cells [38]. The hair cells are arranged in a mound-like structure called the
ampular crest. Rising above the ampullary crest is material arranged in a wedge-
shaped structure [39].

The vestibular system has now been explained, in some degree of detail.
However, that entire system is itself part of bigger systems. NASA recalled that
the vestibular system works in concert with the visual, somatosensory and
auditory channels [40]. NASA also recognized that sensation is transmitted by
“muscles, tendons, joints, vision, touch, pressure, hearing and the vestibular
system” [41].

 
256 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

B. Incorrect Information Sent by the Vestibular System in Space


When our visual sense is limited, we rely more on the vestibular system, as is the
case sometimes in space [42]. The irony of this, of course, is that the vestibular
system is prone to mislead in space. NASA recalled that, “However, in flight and
in space, our vestibular system, which is designed to work on the ground in a 1g
environment, often provides us with erroneous or disorienting information” [43].

C. Orientation Issues
Sometimes spacefarers have felt disoriented. That sensation has often been
attributed to the microgravity environment.

Skylab astronaut Ed Gibson claimed that he failed to recognize a wardroom when


it was rotated approximately 45 degrees from its normal vertical orientation [44].
Hall (1997) recalled, “In orbit, Skylab astronauts lost their sense of where objects
were located relative to their bodies when they could not actually see the objects.
After returning home, one of them fell down in his own home when the lights
went out unexpectedly” [45]. O’Neill added that the vestibular organs are
sensitive and delicate [46].

D. Balance Issues
NASA has acknowledged the fact that seems to be common knowledge. The
vestibular system damage done by the space environment results in a loss of balance
[47].

E. Post-Return to Earth Issues


Astronauts seem to have experienced spaceflight-induced medical problems. Hall
recalled that Skylab astronauts manifested symptoms after their return from space
missions [48]. NASA admitted, “After returning to Earth after prolonged
exposure to microgravity, astronauts frequently have trouble standing and walking
upright, standing, stabilizing their gaze, and walking and turning corners in a
coordinated manner” [49].

F. Space Sickness Caused by Vestibular Issues


Space sickness and the related space adaptation syndrome (SAS) are problems of
such significance that they are addressed in a separate chapter. At this point we
will merely note the fact that, “In humans, altered gravity may lead to vestibular
dysfunction and space motion sickness” [50].

 
Brain & Neurology Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 257

G. Space Environment Causes Vestibular Problems


We have already entertained the opinion of Scientific American that the space
environment causes vestibular system degradation [51]. Zhang et al. (2010)
corroborated the conclusion of the respected American science magazine [52].
Similarly, a McGill University biomedical researcher noted that, “The weightless
environment has other disconcerting effects on the vestibular system” [53].
H. Training
There is the possibility that more effective training might reduce the problems
some astronauts have experienced with their vestibular systems. Boyd (2006)
reported that, “Astronauts will feel better in space if they can rely more on all
their other senses and less on their miscuing vestibular system. Researchers are
creating training programs to equip astronauts with the neuropsychological tools
needed for space travel” [54].
I. Vinpocetine
In addition to training, a pharmaceutical remedy might be available for
spacefarers with vestibular difficulties. “Vinpocetine improves vestibular
disorientation,” claimed an online source [55]. It added, “Vinpocetine has a very
profound effect on the brain, through its role as a metabolic enhancer and
neuroprotective agent” [56].
It has been claimed that Vinpocetine has reduced the incidence of space sickness
[57]. A study using rotation chamber methodology confirmed the effectiveness of
this medicine [58].
J. Calcium Needed for Vestibular Health
“Calcium is very important in the functioning of the inner ear and is the main
component of the otoliths,” according to Zhang et al. (2010) [59]. The problem is
that the space environment reduces the body’s calcium supply, as we learned in
the chapter on the consequences of the space environment on bones.
K. Vestibular Problems: Cause or Effect?
We conclude this chapter with an intriguing question. Or perhaps it is a
conundrum. Is vestibular system degradation a cause or an effect of space illness?
We assume that vestibular system imbalance is a cause, a source of problems. But
one study asserted that, in fact, it is an effect of other, larger issues, “The
symptoms of space motion sickness include nausea, vomiting, (and) disruptions of
the neurovestibular system” [60].

 
258 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.
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260 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 260-270

CHAPTER 24

Space Adaptation Syndrome & Space Sickness


Abstract: This chapter dealt with one concept that is known by three different names—
motion sickness, space sickness and space adaptation syndrome. All three terms refer to
the same basic phenomenon, the gastrointestinal distress encountered in the space
environment. Motion sickness is a relatively common happening, it was demonstrated,
and it has been studied by the FAA. Solutions to motion sickness were discussed. Space
sickness was defined and quantified. Individual variables in space sickness were
considered, and ways to minimize space sickness were discussed. Space adaptation
syndrome (SAS) was defined and the symptoms discussed. The short-term nature of the
malady was documented and the incidence of the syndrome was quantified. It was noted
that SAS is unpredictable and variables were examined. The cause of SAS was
considered and the similarity to altitude sickness noted. A variety of solutions to SAS
were discussed.

Keywords: Altitude sickness, artificial gravity, Autogenic Feedback Training


Exercise, disorientation, Dramamine, Dexedrine, Gemini space mission,
gyroscopes, malaise, Mercury space mission, motion sickness, nausea, Phenergan,
Promethszyne, Promethezine Hydrochloride, Scopalomine, Sophron Foundation,
space adaptation syndrome, The Space Tourist’s Handbook.

1. INTRODUCTION

As this chapter was in production I was uncertain whether I was discussing one
concept, a pair of issues, or three different phenomenon. It is my opinion that
there is one concept involved here, the gastrointestinal response of the body to the
microgravity environment of space. But this singular notion has been expressed in
a variety of ways.

Human beings typically don’t react well to certain types and speeds of motion.
That is known as motion sickness and charioteers probably suffered from an
ancient version of this malady in the Roman Coliseum. When this motion
involves space travel, and entering and residing in the microgravity environment
of outer space, it is referred to as space sickness. Based on my reading of the
literature I think that space adaptation syndrome is merely a more modern and
contemporary term for space sickness.

Spacefarers become sick to their stomach relatively soon into their space
experience. They feel dizzy, disoriented and sick to their stomach. There is a

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Space Adaptation Syndrome & Space Sickness Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 261

nauseated sensation and vomiting is a common physical reaction to the distress.


All of this is triggered by the neurovestibular system and fortunately this is a
short-term malady for most spacefarers. In this chapter we will examine the
research and thinking on motion sickness (in space), space sickness and SAS.

2. MOTION SICKNESS

Motion sickness is not uncommon. It is rooted in the neurovestibular system’s


difficulty in reconciling certain types and degrees of motion. Children who spend
too long on the merry-go- round or swings are likely to get dizzy and fall down.
Many people feel ill while riding in vehicles, a tendency known as carsickness.
Some people feel unwell in airplanes, another manifestation of motion illness.

A. Motion Sickness is Typical in Space


Two of three American astronauts suffered motion sickness in orbit according to
Van Pelt (2005), and one in seven had severe nausea and prolonged vomiting [1].
The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (2013) observed that astronauts
typically experienced motion sickness in space [2].

“Space motion sickness affects approximately 50 per cent of the people who go
into space,” observed O’Neil and Young (1999) [3]. “Motion sickness” was
specified as a common effect of space travel by Kim (2012) [4]. According to the
Discovery Channel, “Almost 40 per cent of astronauts experience a form of
motion sickness in space” [5].

B. FAA Is Studying Motion Sickness


“The FAA for several years has been studying what the average passenger will
face from G- forces and psychological factors,” Antczak (2006) reported [6].

C. Motion Sickness Solutions


Spacefarers might take some steps to reduce motion sickness if they are free to
restrict their movement. Anderson and Piven (2005) suggested, “It is critical to
stay seated or lie flat during the ascent of your zero-G flight; most motion
sickness occurs during this high-G period. In microgravity, avoid sharp
movements of your head to reduce motion sickness” [7].

Medications are probably the most frequently recommended remedy for space
motion sickness. This is potentially problematic because nauseated spacefarers

 
262 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

might find it difficult to swallow a pill or capsule. However, skin patches work.
The Sophron Foundation (2000) observed, “Conventional motion sickness
medications/prophylactics, such as epidermal scopolamine Dexedrine (scopedex)
skin patches, or even over-the-counter medication such as Dramamine, may prove
sufficiently palliative for this condition” [8]. O’Neil and Young (1999) mentioned
that, “Drugs, such as promethezyne, offer relief from space sickness” [9].

Medicine is not the only possible motion sickness solution. The Sophron
Foundation (2000) noted, “Alternatively, techniques such as autogenic feedback,
developed at NASA Ames Research Center, may be useful for both this and the
longer-term effects” [10]. The Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE) is a
six-hour preflight training biofeedback technique that has been studied in clinical
and experimental tests. Participants are “instructed to control a pattern of
physiological responses.” Study results have been promising, “Results showed
that subjects given AFTE significantly improved their tolerance to the different
types of motion sickness” [11]. Individuals who could tolerate 200 rotations in the
rotating chair could handle more than 1,000 after AFTE training [12].

3. SPACE SICKNESS

Space sickness is specified in several sources as a prominent negative


consequence of space travel. We will define this term and realize the similarity
between space sickness and altitude sickness. We will notice the quantitative
significance of this malady and discern some individual variables. Ways to
minimize space sickness will be discussed, and we will contemplate a concept
known as space motion sickness, or SMS.

A. Definition of Space Sickness


Thesis writer Anders Lindskold offered an operational definition of space
sickness. “Sometimes when astronauts are in space, they feel sick and vomit. This
is called space sickness” [13]. Space sickness is comparable and similar to
sensitivity to other types of motion sickness. As Anderson and Piven observed,
“The sensation of space sickness is similar to air sickness, car sickness and even
sea sickness” [14]. The same conclusion was reached by ScienceDaily [15].

B. Frequency of Space Sickness


Space sickness is not an atypical or rare occurrence. Approximately half of all
people, regardless of background or training, currently end up with the symptoms
of space sickness while in orbit,” Spence and Rugg (2004) asserted [16]. “This

 
Space Adaptation Syndrome & Space Sickness Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 263

‘space sickness’ or Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS), is experienced by about


half of all astronauts during the first few days of their space travel” [17].

British space entrepreneur David Ashford suggested, “One problem not


completely solved is space sickness. This is related to ordinary travel sickness but
is sufficiently different to need special research” [18]. Time magazine reported,
“What would such a trip be like? Well, take a ride in the world’s most violent
roller coaster, mix in weightlessness, nausea, double vision, headache. Even
seasoned and trained astronauts have suffered space sickness” [19].

C. Individual Variables
It has been mentioned that approximately half of the spacefarers to date have
suffered from space sickness. That means half did not. What accounts for the
susceptibility of half of the spacefarers to space sickness? Certain individual
variables can be examined.

“People have different tolerances and thresholds for space sickness,” according to
Anderson and Piven [20].

D. Ways to Minimize Risk


A planned and organized approach to managing space sickness is needed. One
series of recommendations was provided by the authors of The Space Tourists
Handbook. Change position slowly, avoid sudden head movement, focus on fixed
points, look straight ahead, not down, use motion-sickness medication like a
Scopolamine patch, or use Scope-Dex (a combination of Scopolamine and
Dexedrine) or Phenagren [21].

E. Space Sickness Not Significant


Prediction can be risky business. Even logical educated guesses can turn out to be
remarkably wrong. Respected commercial space pioneer John Spence made this
prediction in 2005, “Space sickness is an issue that is being currently addressed
and should become a nonissue by the time large numbers of people are travelling
off world” [22].

F. Space Motion Sickness


Some of the literature on this subject refers to motion sickness. Others use the
term space sickness, while space adaptation syndrome is preferred by others. One

 
264 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

other related term is ‘space motion sickness,’ or SMS. In this section we consider
SMS in some detail. Like the other varieties of space malaise, SMS occurs during
the initial seventy-two hours of the spaceflight experience [23]. A study of
astronauts showed that 67% felt some symptoms of SMS as space shuttle
occupants [24]. Although “scientists have not been able to determine the exact
cause, SMS appears to stem from several root causes. In general, it may be a
result of imbalances in the inner ear caused by conflicting signals between fluid in
the semicircular canals of the ear not having a gravity reference and visual
disorientation” [25]. Interestingly, astronauts on the Gemini and Mercury
missions did not report experiencing this health risk [26].

Solutions to SMS primarily include medication, although a relatively radical


alternative has been proposed for frequent spacefarers. Scopolamine and
Phenergan are the main pharmaceutical remedies. Scopolamine patches are
popular with spacefarers, but “The results of a 1993 study indicate that Phenergan
(Promethazine Hydrochloride) appears to be even more effective in treating the
symptoms of SMS” [27].

Some may prefer surgery. Frequent medication may have its drawbacks, and
surgical intervention may be easier in some cases [28].

4. SPACE ADAPTATION SYNDROME

Space adaptation syndrome is the preferred term in contemporary discussions of


space sickness. We will define SAS and consider the symptoms. The frequency of
SAS will be documented, along with its unpredictable nature and variables.
Causes of SAS will be considered and the similarity to altitude sickness noted.
SAS solutions will be examined.

A. Definition
“Persistent nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting is referred to as ‘space
sickness,’ called space adaptation syndrome” [29].

B. Symptoms
“Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, anorexia, headache, malaise, drowsiness,
lethargy, pallor and sweating,” according to Hall (1997) [30]. Morphew (2001)

 
Space Adaptation Syndrome & Space Sickness Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 265

mentioned “symptoms such as nausea, disorientation, headache, and a sea-sick or


flu-like feeling” [31]. Morphew (2001) added that while exercise and
pharmacological interventions can alleviate some of the SAS symptoms, “others
remain a significant obstacle to maintaining the health of astronauts during long
duration missions” [32].

Van Pelt (2005) talked with the second commercial space tourist, Mark
Shuttlesworth. According to Shuttlesworth, “he was a little unsteady on his feet,”
and he compared the feeling to a newborn deer learning how to walk. He said he
kept expecting to “just float somewhere” [33].

C. Lasts for Two or Three Days


If there is anything good about SAS it is the relatively short duration. Most
sources concur that SAS lasts for the initial two or three days of a spaceflight.
“Symptoms of space sickness usually subside within two or three days,” the
Discovery Channel reported [34]. Harrison (2001) corroborated the Discovery
Channel account [35]. An online source added, “In the first several days of a
mission,” SAS symptoms might be experienced [36].

D. SAS is Common
Precise estimates vary a bit but SAS is not an occasional or unexpected
happening. The point remains clear that spacefarers typically experience SAS.
Hall (1997) recalled, “About half of all astronauts and cosmonauts are afflicted”
with SAS [37]. A few years later, Morphew (2001) suggested similarly that,
“About 40% to 50% of the flight crews during their first few days of microgravity
experience a condition which is called Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS)” [38].

“Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS) incapacitates about 50% of the astronauts


with symptoms of headache, malaise, vomiting, vertigo, etc,” Jennings noted [39].
NASA observed, “During the first few days in space 50 – 80% of the
crewmembers suffer from the space adaptation syndrome (SAS)” [40].

Harrison (2001) reported the most comprehensive data on this specific subject. He
noted that 60- 70% of the space shuttle astronauts suffered from SAS. In a study
of eighty-five astronauts, there were fifty-seven cases of reported SAS. Of these
cases, forty-six per cent were considered mild, 35% were considered moderate,

 
266 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

and eleven per cent were classified as severe [41]. “About half of all space
travelers” get SAS, another source suggested [42].

“Approximately half the people who have travelled on the space shuttle” have
manifested symptoms like nausea, “within the first few hours of the trip,” Collins
noted [43]. “Nearly half of all people who have gone into space have experienced
nausea and become ill due to the lack of gravity,” according to O’Neil et al.
(1998) [44]. Van Pelt put the estimate a bit higher, claiming that two-thirds of
spacefarers have had SAS-like symptoms [45].

Hans Schlegel is a German paratrooper and physicist, who was pulled from a
spacewalk to install the ESA science lab Columbia. The father of seven felt fine
before the launch but became ill soon thereafter. The European Mission Control,
located near Munich, Germany, radioed this message to the space station, “We’re
all keeping our fingers crossed for him to get better soon” [46]. O’Neil et al.
(1998) concluded, “We must learn how to reduce if not eliminate, general public
passenger space sickness discomfort” [47].

E. Unpredictable
Not everyone suffers from SAS. That prompted Harrison (2001) to note, “SAS is
unpredictable since it is hard to guess in advance who will experience it, and a person
who experiences it on one mission may not experience it during another” [48].

F. Variables
Maybe the occurrence of SAS is not random and accidental. Perhaps there are
some variables that determine who is likely to suffer in space. In fact, there is one
situational variable, and two personal ones.

The situational variable is space. Not outer space, but personal space and room to
move around. But the correlation is counterintuitive. The spacefarers who
sojourned to space in cramped, one- person cabins did not experience SAS. So,
the smaller the space, the less the incidence of SAS [49].

There seem to be two individual variables. One is gender. Women appear


somewhat more adaptive to space and resistant to SAS. And first-time spacefarers
are much more likely to experience SAS then veteran spacefarers [50].

 
Space Adaptation Syndrome & Space Sickness Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 267

G. Caused by Weightlessness
The precise causal element in SAS is unknown. Harrison (2001) offered his
opinion, “One way or another, theories of SAS involve the physiological effects
of weightlessness” [51].

H. Similar to Altitude Sickness


On several occasions in this book we have noted the similarity of the effects of the
space environment to that of aging. But another comparison can be drawn,
between SAS and another terrestrial illness—altitude sickness.

“The symptoms of altitude sickness overlap those of space sickness,” one source
suggested. It added, “The string of early-onset afflictions and infirmities
experienced by astronauts is remarkably similar to those of altitude sickness:
headache, malaise, dizziness, nausea and vomiting” [52].

I. Solutions
There have been numerous technological, chemical, mechanical and kinetic
solutions proposed for SAS over the years. We will consider the traditional ideas,
like exercise and medication, and less common solutions like a vibrating vest and
artificial gravity.

Meds and vigorous exercise are the standard prescription for SAS. Morphew
(2001) observed, “Exercise and pharmacological intervention” were sometimes
effective in alleviating the symptoms of SAS [53].

The vibrating vest deserves its own paragraph. NASA reported in a feature news
release, “Dutch Doctor Bound for Space Station,” in 2004 that, “One DELTA
experiment involves the use of a vest fitted with vibrating elements and
gyroscopes. Kuipers will wear it daily during his mission testing to see if it helps
his body adjust to microgravity” [54]. Dr. Andre Kuipers commented, “This vest
could help not just with orientation, but maybe to help prevent space adaptation
syndrome, the space sickness a lot of astronauts experience in the beginning”
[55].

Artificial gravity is the final solution to the microgravity environment of space.


After all, if we can create artificial gravity in space stations and spaceships then
SAS will be overcome. Harrison (2001) suggested, “In addition to reducing the

 
268 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

chances of space adaptation syndrome, artificial gravity would make it easier to


move from place to place” [56].

Other advice differed considerably. O’Neil et al. (1999) recommended that


spacefarers avoid jerky and fast head motion [57].

5. POST-FLIGHT HEALTH PROBLEMS

Astronaut post-flight health problems were typified by the experience of


Stefanyshyn Piper. A day after she returned from a 12-day space mission, Piper
collapsed twice within a minute during a welcome home ceremony at Ellington
Field in Texas. Piper exclaimed, “Boy, if that’s not a little embarrassing” [58].

Chris Hadfield was a Canadian astronaut. After his grueling ISS assignment, he
and fellow spacefarers Roman Romanchenko and Tom Marshburn were carried to
cars from the spaceraft [59]. A Canadian website reported, “When astronauts
return to Earth, especially after a long mission, the sudden return to gravity sends
blood back to the lower body again, leaving astronauts feeling light-headed and
dizzy. Standing for too long can cause them to pass out” [60].

“I had trouble maintaining blood pressure to my head and therefore I felt pretty
faint and dizzy,” recalled Bob Thirsk, another Canadian astronaut [61]. Thirsk
was back on the Earth for two weeks before he felt safe to drive again [62].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

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[20] Anderson and Piven, Handbook, pp. 108-11.
[21] Anderson and Piven, Handbook, p. 160.
[22] Spence and Rugg, Space Tourism, p. 118.
[23] United States, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration,
Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles and Emerging Markets, February 2005, p. 15.
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[36] Space Exploration, “Living,” p. 2.
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[44] D. O’Neil, I. Bekey, J. Mankins, T.F. Rogers, and E.W. Stallmer, “Executive Summary.” General
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[59] O’Canada.com., “Chris Hadfield in for Long Recovery,” May 14, 2013. [Online]. Available:
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Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 271-280 271

CHAPTER 25

Digestive & Immune Systems


Abstract: This chapter dealt with two separate systems in the human body, the
digestive and the immune systems. Digestive problems related to the space environment
were documented, and the existence of astronaut abdominal pain was discussed.
Spacefarer electrolyte imbalances were mentioned and dehydration considered. The
spacefarer diet was criticized and spacefarer nutritional inadequacy documented. The
effect of the space environment on appetite was discussed. Space-induced degradation
of the senses of taste and smell was explained. Eating and drinking in space was
considered. The immune system was described and the effect of the space environment
on immunology was discussed. Space causes altered immune systems and depressed
immune systems. It was shown that the immune system does not adapt to the space
environment, and that radiation degrades the immune system. The immune system has
not been adequately studied, and spacefarers have been prone to infection. The negative
effects of space on pharmaceuticals were considered.

Keywords: Bacteria, calories, carbohydrates, cytokines, dehydration, dendritic


cells, diet log book, digital scale, electrolyte, flatulence, fungi, HZe nuclei,
immune system, immunology, macrophage, membrane, microorganism,
monocyte, sodium T-Lymphocyte.

1. INTRODUCTION

This chapter includes analysis of two different aspects of the human anatomy, the
digestive system and the immune system. The space environment is not conducive
to digestion, and dehydration and malnutrition among astronauts demonstrates
that the problem is systemic. Appetite is reduced and the sense of taste degraded.
A space diet heavy on carbs and sodium will be described.

The immune system is also discussed in this chapter with respect to the role of the
space environment. The human immune system will first be described, and then
the deleterious consequences of the space environment on the immune system will
be documented. Terms like altered immune system and depressed immune
systems will become familiar, and we will learn that radiation degrades the
immune system. Astronauts are prone to infection, and it appears that the immune
system does not adapt to the space environment. The role of sleep deprivation and
isolation results in decreased T-lymphocyte production.

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
272 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

2. DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
The digestive system and how it fares in space is the subject of this section. We
will look at the digestive system itself, and the related libido functions of thirst
and hunger. Degradation of the taste and smell sensations in space will be
documented. Spacefarer dehydration and malnutrition are pervasive problems,
and the typical space diet is nutritionally deficient.

A. Digestive Problems
“The digestive tract” is distressed by the micro-gravity space environment [1].
Morphew (2001) referred to “digestive problems” encountered by past spacefarers
[2].

We might consider one relatively distasteful but nevertheless telling indication of


digestive problems in space. That is flatulence. Hall (1997) noted that in space,
digestive gasses cannot ‘rise’ in the body to the mouth, so it is anatomically more
likely that foul vapors will be eliminated from the body as flatulence [3]. Joe
Kerwin, the Skylab crewman serving as doctor, tactfully recalled that flatulent
behavior occurred “very effectively and with great volume and frequency” [4].
The space environment caused “increased flatulence,” according to Pass [5].

B. Abdominal Pain
According to Zeigler and Meck (2001), there was a tendency towards “abdominal
pain” among astronauts and cosmonauts [6].

C. Dehydration
Dehydration has been an issue among spacefarers in the past. “Space crew
members must be aware of dehydration,” according to Hall (1997) [7]. Smith and
Rice (2013) concluded, “Intake of fluids should be about 2,000 milliliters (2
liters) a day, which is sufficient to prevent dehydration and kidney stone
formation. Fluid intakes have varied from 1,000 to 4,000 milliliters per day,
indicating that some crew members are getting less than the recommended
amount” [8]. “The inevitable dehydration of space” was alleged by Dr. William
Rowe [9]. Pass (2008) listed eleven physiological consequences of microgravity,
and the first on the list was dehydration [10].

 
Digestive & Immune Systems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 273

D. Electrolyte Imbalance
The various parts of the human anatomy are interconnected in various and
complex ways. “Changes in fluid distribution lead to imbalances in potassium and
sodium and disturb the autonomic regulatory system,” Hall (1997) noted [11].

E. Insufficient Nutritional Intake


Spacefarers do not eat enough of the necessary nutritional substances to optimize
their health in space. This is not a secondary concern or unimportant
consideration, “A primary concern is that astronauts consume enough energy
(calories) for optimal work performance and good health,” Smith and Rice
observed [12]. They added that only the Skylab crews met their desired caloric
intake during their space missions. “Most of the other crew members in other
flight programs consumed about seventy per cent of what was planned” [13].

Why did Skylab astronauts eat better? One study recalled, “On the Skylab flights,
much time and attention was given to eating and food preparation, and the crew
members’ extensive exercise program may have stimulated their appetite” [14].

F. Sodium and Carbohydrate-Heavy Space Diet


The spacefarer diet has been suboptimal in some people’s eyes. There are
deficiencies in what nutritional offerings are provided, and much of what they
consume is not in their best nutritional interest.

The deleted items are basic nutritional requirements. Smith and Rice noted,
“Specific nutrition concerns for spaceflight include adequate consumption of
calories for energy, adequate fluid intake to prevent dehydration, and adequate
calcium to minimize bone loss” [15]. The items that should be deleted from the
spacefarer diet at current levels might be considered, “There seems to be an
excess of both sodium and iron in the inflight diet, compared to predicted
requirements” [16].

G. Appetite
“Loss of appetite” has been described as a malady affecting spacefarers [17]. A
CBS News report arrived at the identical conclusion [18]. Hall (1997) referred to
“diminished appetite” resulting in weight loss [19].

 
274 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

H. Sense of Taste and Smell


In space the sense of taste is affected. Hall (1997) reported, “The increase fluids
in the head causes stuffiness similar to a head cold” [20]. As a result, astronauts
crave spicy food, “Foods take on an aura of sameness and there is a craving for
spices and strong flavoring such as horseradish, mustard and taco sauce” [21].

I. Eating and Drinking in Space


Human beings need certain basic things for survival. These include air, shelter,
food and something to drink. One source realized, “The basic needs of astronauts
in space must be met. These needs include breathing, eating and drinking,
elimination of body wastes, and sleeping” [22]. In space everything is monitored
and measured. Daily liquid and solid food intake is recorded. Astronauts are given
a digital scale and a diet record log book [23].

J. Weight Loss
One effect of the space environment is weight loss. Spacefarers to date have
generally lost between one and five percent of their body weight [24]. However,
for a substantial number of those travelling to space the loss can be more
significant, between ten and fifteen per cent of preflight body mass [25].

3. IMMUNE SYSTEM

The human immune system is one of the ways the body protects itself against
biological and chemical changes. It produces antibodies and enables us to ward
off infections and diseases. We will examine depressed immune systems and
altered immune systems, and discover that the immune system does not adapt to
the space environment. Radiation is harmful to immune systems, and astronauts
have been prone to infections.

A. Description of Immune System


It might be useful to learn a bit about the human immune system. Boni (2001)
explained, “Monocytes, a type of white blood cell, play crucial functions in the
immune system. Some of their roles include producing macrophages (infection
killers), dendritic cells (immune system messengers), and cytokines (that respond
to inflammation signals)” [26].

 
Digestive & Immune Systems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 275

B. Microgravity Degrades the Immune System


Microgravity produces “suppressed immune response” [27]. Several studies have
examined this topic. Boni (2001) reported on experiments conducted in
microgravity conditions on the Earth, where monocytes never fully matured into
macrophages, dendritic cells or cytokines [28]. In other research, monocytes
cultures were subsequently sent into space on experiments that corroborated the
previous results [29]. “The immune system is another biological structure affected
by weightlessness,” according to Boni (2012) [30].

“Decease in immune function” was attributed to the space environment by Kim


(2012) [31]. The potential for space-caused “immunodeficiency” was realized by
Scientific American [32]. A NASA publication observed that it has been common
knowledge for some time that the immune system is compromised by the space
environment [33]. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
recalled, “The National Aeronautic and Space Administration said previous
research conducted after landing showed dramatic changes on crew members
immune systems” [34].

C. Altered Immune Systems


Harrison mentioned the danger of “altered immune systems” from exposure to the
micro-gravity space environment [35].

D. Isolation & Sleep Deprivation Hurt Immune System


“Studies conducted in space and on test missions in Antarctica show that isolation
and sleep deprivation may result in a weakened T-lymphocyte system, causing
compromised immunity” [36].

E. Immune System Does Not Adapt to Space


It seems that many if not most of the main human anatomical elements and
systems were designed for terrestrial use. The human immune system was
designed for terrestrial application.

Is there any evidence that the immune system can adapt to other environments?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. “The immune system doesn’t adapt under these
conditions,” the Discovery Channel reported [37].

 
276 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

F. Astronauts Prone to Infection


It is an unfortunate fact but spacefarers are especially susceptible to infections.
“Astronauts are more prone to infection by common and latent viruses as well as
microorganisms like bacteria and fungi” [38]. Boni (2001) corroborated the
previous opinion, “Adding to the problem, large infectious particles that would
normally settle to the ground in a gravity-bound environment are free to float
around the cabin in space. All these factors result in an especially high prevalence
of space infections” [39]. Choi (2013) suggested, “Space travel already weakens
astronaut immunity” [40].

G. Radiation Impairs the Immune System


Setlow (2003) was concerned about the consequences of cosmic radiation on the
immune system. He was particularly worried about radiation with HZE (high-
energy particles) nuclei. “The more general effects of space radiation on the
immune system” were considered just as harmful as HZE nuclei [41].

H. Immune System Becomes Depressed


When human beings travel into outer space, “The immune system becomes
depressed,” contended space commercialization authority Paula Berinstein (2002)
[42]. Block (1998) asserted that, “Space flight seems to depress immune function
and thus may affect aging” [43].

I. Immune System Not Seriously Studied


There is only so much money available in NASA and FAA budgets. Not every
important space travel-related topic has been investigated. Setlow (2003)
suggested that space-related immune system problems are a “not yet seriously
investigated problem” [44].

Five years later Setlow’s statement was corrected by subsequent acts. NASA
designed and implemented a research program, as explained by the AIAA, “An
ongoing, first-of-its-kind study is the only one to comprehensively monitor the
human immune system before, during and after spaceflight.” Blood, saliva and
urine samples provided the informational input for the study [45].

 
Digestive & Immune Systems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 277

4. PHARMACOLOGICAL CHANGES IN SPACE


A. Oral Medicine Cannot be Taken in Microgravity
We have learned that the microgravity space environment affects the human body
in a multitude of ways. Cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, neurological, digestive
and psychological degradation of various types can occur.

Medicine is no different. Zeigler and Meck (2001) noted, “This is a matter of


some concern because oral antibiotics are absorbed poorly due to the GI changes
of weightlessness” [46]. Rowe observed, “Furthermore, pharmaceuticals may not
be adequately absorbed because malabsorption is an inevitable complication in
microgravity” [47].

B. Fluid Redistribution Alters Pharmaceutical Effectiveness


Fluid redistribution within the body has been established previously in this book.
In fact, we have repeatedly considered this phenomenon in a variety of contexts.
Hall (1997) noted that “Fluid redistribution affects the way drugs are taken up by
the body” [48].

C. Bacterial Cell Membrane Changes in Space


In the space environment changes occur to bacterial cell membranes. They thicken
and become less permeable. Hall (1997) suggested, “Bacterial cell membranes
become thicker and less permeable, reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics”
[49].

D. Reduced Efficacy of Medications in Space


Berinstein (2004) produced a seminal book on space commercialization and space
tourism in particular. She expressed concern over “decreased efficacy of
antibiotics and other medications” [50].

E. Little is Known About Pharmaceuticals in Space


We need to know more about the effect of the microgravity space environment on
the administration of pharmaceuticals in space. Berinstein (2004) suggested, “In
fact, we don’t know at all how medication—even aspirin—will affect us in space
and it will take years to find out” [51].

 
278 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

F. Radiation Degrades Pharmaceuticals


“Radiation effects” on pharmaceutical supplies in space would inevitably be a
cause of concern due to the length of space missions. For instance, an expedition
to explore Mars would be a three-year trip. And the radiation exposure might be
lethal [52].

G. Pharmaceutical Expiration Dates


Some drugs have a shelf life of six months, and many are meant for use within a
year. Since future space trips could last longer than that, problems may arise.
Rowe (2005) asked the on- point, practical question about pharmaceutical
degradation in space, “How can one be sure that pharmaceuticals—even if
adequately absorbed—will be effective, in the presence of deterioration of some
pharmaceuticals in space?” [53].

Pharmaceutical needs will require special attention on long-duration spaceflights.


“Modern drugs degrade after six months, though, so it is likely that that the drugs’
active ingredients will have to be packed separately and mixed on board as
needed” [54].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] P. Marks, “Out of Sorts in Outer Space. Year-Long Mission to Mars Would Radically Affect
Astronauts’ Bodies,” The Courant, p. A1, March 9, 2004.
[2] M.E. Morphew, “Psychological and Human Factors in Long Duration Spaceflight,” McGill Journal
of Medicine, vol. 6, p. 76, 2001.
[3] T.W. Hall, “Artificial Gravity and the Architecture of Orbital Habitats,” Space Future, 1997. [Online]
Available: http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/artificial_gravity_and_the_architecture. Accessed
17th Mar. 2014, p. 4.
[4] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 4.
[5] J. Pass, “Space Medicine: Medical Astrosociology in the Sickbay,” Proceedings of the American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. AIAA 2008-1465, 2008, p. 7.
[6] M.C. Zeigler, and J.V. Meck, “Physical and Psychological Challenges of Space Travel: An
Overview,” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 63, no. 6, p. 1, December, 2001.
[7] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 2.

 
Digestive & Immune Systems Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 279

[8] S.M. Smith, and B.L. Rice, “Space Travel and Nutrition,” Faqs.org., N. d. [Online]. Available:
http://www.faqs.org/nutrition/Smi-z/Space-Travel-and-nutrition.html/ Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 4.
[9] W.J. Rowe, “Space Tourism and Pharmaceuticals,” October 27, 2005. [Online]. Available:
http://www.femsinspace.com/spacetourism.htm. Accessed 11th Mar. 2007, p. 1.
[10] Pass, “Sickbay,” p. 7.
[11] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 2.
[12] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 4.
[13] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 4.
[14] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 4.
[15] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” pp. 3-4.
[16] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” pp. 3-4.
[17] CBSNews-Tampa, “Report: Human Body Not Prepared for Life in Outer Space,” January, 29, 2014.
[Online]. Available: http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2014/01/29-report-human-not-prepared-for-life-in-
outer-space/ Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[18] Zeigler and Meck, “Physical,” p. 1.
[19] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 4.
[20] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 4.
[21] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 4.
[22] Space Exploration, “Living in Space,” N. d. [Online]. Available: http://www.abhisheksood.50
megs.com/living_in_space.htm. Accessed 17th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[23] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 4.
[24] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition.” p. 2.
[25] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 2.
[26] I. Boni, “Biological and Psychological Effects of Human Space Flight,” The Triple Helix Online: A
Global Forum for Science in Society, April 24, 2014. [Online]. Available: http://triplehelixblog.com.
Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 2.
[27] “What Are the Health Risks Facing Humans on Long-Term Space Flights?” Space Exploration Stack
Exchange, July 17, 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.space.stackexchange.com/questions
/177what-are-the-health-risks-facing-humans-on-long-term-space-flight. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p.
1.
[28] Boni, “Biological,” p. 2.
[29] Boni, “Biological.” p. 2.
[30] Boni, “Biological,” p. 2.
[31] L. Kim, “Commercial Space Travel Carries Implications for Health. UCSF-Led Research Team
Suggests Developing Health Screening Standards for Citizen Astronauts,” December 12, 2012.
[Online]. Available: http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/12/13309/commercial-space-travel-carries-
implications-health. Accessed 4th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[32] “How Does Spending Prolonged Time in Microgravity Affect the Bodies of Astronauts?” Scientific
American, August 15, 2005. [Online]. Available: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-
does-spending-prolong/. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 2.
[33] United States, National Aeronautical and Space Administration, “Andromeda Strain 2: NASA’s
Microbes in Space,” September 6, 2007. [Online]. Available: http://www.thelivingspace.com/41
pegasus02files/NASA/Bacteria_03.htm. Accessed 8th Mar. 2014, p. 2.
[34] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Astronauts Study Immune System Function in
Space,” Daily Launch, February 27, 2008, p. 5.
[35] A.A. Harrison, Spacefaring: The Human Dimension. Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 2001, p. xii.
[36] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects of Long-Term Space Flights,” 2013. [Online]. Available:
http://www.racetomars,ca/mars/article_effects.jsp. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[37] Discovery Channel, “Known,” p. 1.
[38] Discovery Channel, “Known,” p. 1.
[39] Boni, “Biological,” p. 2.
[40] C.Q. Choi, “Super Space Germs Could Threaten Astronauts,” Science, February 22, 2013. [Online].
Available: http://wwwnbcnews.com/science. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.

 
280 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[41] R.B. Setlow, “The Hazards of Space Travel,” European Molecular and Biology Organization, vol. 4,
no.11, p. 1014, 2003.
[42] P. Berinstein, Making Space Happen. Medford, New Jersey: Plexus Publishing Company, 2002, p.
84.
[43] W. Block, “Space Secrets Shed Light on the Issues of Aging,” Life Enhancement, September 1998.
[Online]. Available: http://www.life-enhancement.com/magazine/article/291-space-secrets. p. 2.
[44] Setlow, “Hazards,” p. 1014.
[45] AIAA, “Astronauts,” p. 5.
[46] Zeigler and Meck, “Physical,” p. 3.
[47] Rowe, “Pharmaceuticals,” p. 1.
[48] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 4.
[49] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 4.
[50] Berinstein, Making, p. 90.
[51] Berinstein, Making, p. 90.
[52] Rowe, “Pharmaceuticals,” p. 1.
[53] Rowe, “Pharmaceuticals,” p. 1.
[54] Discovery Channel, “Known,” p. 1.

 
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 281-290 281

CHAPTER 26

Muscles
Abstract: The effect of the space environment on muscles was analyzed in this chapter.
It was documented that a variety of muscle problems can result from space travel,
including loss of contractile protein and connective tissue damage. Other harmful
effects of space on muscles includes changes in muscle type, muscular twitching,
muscle damage, tissue shrinkage, and reduced muscle volume. A number of causes of
muscle problems in outer space were considered along with a few proposed solutions.
The fact that spacefarers face muscle-related problems upon returning to the Earth was
noted.

Keywords: Atrophy, connective tissue, contractile protein, deconditioning,


gravitational loading, ligament, metabolic stress, morphology, muscular atrophy,
oppositional force, posture, Russian Space Agency, Salyut 7, sedentary, stress,
tendinitis, tendon, twitching.

1. INTRODUCTION

The human muscles are generally thought of as part of the musculoskeletal system
because of their close functional interconnectedness with bones. I decided to split
muscles and bones into separate chapters because of the significance of space
environmental effects on bones and muscles. It would have been thirty or forty
pages long had both been covered in one chapter, and that is too long.

The space environment has decidedly negative consequences for human muscles.
Muscular atrophy and deconditioning both occur and muscles are damaged in
space. Muscle mass, strength and volume are reduced, and there are chemical
changes as well. Connective tissues are injured in the space environment and as a
result both astronauts and their missions have been endangered.

2. MUSCLE FUNCTION EXPLAINED

Most of us knew this already. But the reason the muscles and bones are connected
in the term musculoskeletal is that they literally form one system between them.
The bones create the structure of the human body, and the muscles and connective
tissues facilitate movement and protect us against gravity. Harrison (2001) noted
that, “On Earth, our skeletons are gravity- fighters” [1].

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
282 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

3. MUSCLE LOSS ENDANGERS SPACEFARERS

There are some relatively blunt assessments of the possible consequences for
muscles from the space environment. Scientific American contended that the
space environment could “place astronauts at risk of fatigue and injury” [2].
Harrison (2001) reviewed the risk of muscle problems and said that, “extended
periods of microgravity” could constitute “a cause of concern” [3].

Berinstein (2002) suggested, “It’s easy to hurt yourself” if your muscles have
atrophied and weakened [4]. Choi (2013) attributed “muscle loss” to spacefarer
presence in the space environment [5]. “Dramatic muscle loss in astronauts” was
blamed by one media account on the microgravity environment in space [6].

4. MUSCULAR ATROPHY

Based upon my review of the literature, muscular atrophy is the most commonly
mentioned consequence of the space environment. If frequency of mention is any
indication of significance then muscular atrophy is a primary concern for
spacefarers.

“According to studies conducted by the Russian Space Agency, NASA and other
space agencies, muscular atrophy happens almost instantly,” claimed Chavis and
Adcock [7]. Another source agreed, noting that “muscular atrophy” results from
spacefaring [8]. Yajima (2000) warned of “muscle atrophy” afflicting travelers in
space [9]. According to a British newspaper, The Telegraph, “Muscle loss, or
muscle atrophy, is one of the major health concerns for astronauts” [10].

Boni (2012) asserted, “Muscle tissue tends to atrophy under the decreased
demands of a zero- gravity environment” [11]. The NSBRI concurred and noted
that, “Extended spaceflight results in load loss on the legs and back muscles used
for posture. As a result, the muscles can begin to weaken or atrophy” [12].

The Discovery Channel also noted the muscular atrophy phenomenon. It reported,
“Without gravity, everything in space floats. There’s no need for astronauts to
walk, stand or lift in microgravity and their muscles, particularly in the legs,
atrophy” [13]. Kim (2012) also observed “muscle atrophy” resulting from
exposure to the space environment [14]. Hall (1997) asserted that, “Muscles
atrophy from lack of use” [15]. Van Pelt (2005) realized that, “For longer flights,
there is also the problem of muscle atrophy” [16].
Muscles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 283

5. REDUCED MUSCLE MASS

“Muscles diminish in size” in the space environment, according to Harrison


(2001) [17]. Scientific American reported, “There is a lack of muscle mass” [18].
“Weightlessness leads to loss of muscle mass,” Smith and Rice noted [19]. Hall
(1997) referred to “muscle loss” from space travel [20].

6. REDUCED STRENGTH

Loss of muscular strength was blamed by one study on the microgravity


environment [21]. A relatively dramatic reduction in strength was reported by
Berinstein, “Muscle strength falls by 10 to 40 per cent immediately after long-
duration flights” [22].

Muscle tone refers to the strength potential of that particular muscle. Tone and
strength co-exist in a linear relationship. NASA noted that “muscle tone” is
adversely affected by the space environment [23].

“Muscles get smaller and weaker in space,” according to the Science Channel
[24]. “Muscles can begin to weaken,” the NSBRI observed [25]. Smith and Rice
(2013) reported “weakening muscle performance” as a consequence of space
travel [26].

“Muscles lose maximum size” in the space environment according to Harrison


(2001) [27]. He observed that after an 111-day spaceflight in 1983 on Salyut 7,
cosmonauts Anatoly Berezovoy and Valentin Lededev “returned so debilitated
that they were barely able to walk for a week, and required extensive
rehabilitation” [28].

7. MUSCULAR DECONDITIONING

“Muscular deconditioning” was cited by Harrison (2001) as one of the most


important consequences of space travel [29]. He added, “Although there are wide
individual differences, skeletal muscular deconditioning is evident in as little as
five days” [30].

8. CONTRACTILE PROTEINS LOST

“Contractile proteins” are reduced in the outer space microgravity environment


according to Hall (1997) [31]. These proteins assist the muscle in contracting and
expanding.
284 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Research on muscle protein degredation has been underway. Dr. Nathaniel


Szewczyk, a clinical researcher associate with the University of Derby, conducted
an investigation into “signals that control protein muscle degradation” [32].

9. REDUCED MUSCLE VOLUME

We have learned that substantial degradation of muscles occurs in space. In


addition to atrophy, deconditioning and reduced strength, there is also muscle
volume loss to consider.

“Muscle volume decreases 20 to 30 per cent after long-duration flights, especially


in the first four months,” according to Berinstein [33]. “Muscle volume” is
reduced due to the effects of microgravity, Smith and Rice (2013) claimed [34].

10. CONNECTIVE TISSUE DAMAGE

“The effects of microgravity on connective tissues” is also a concern according to


Scientific American [35]. Berinstein specified some of the other body parts
endangered in space, “Tendons and ligaments also progressively deteriorate” [36].

11. BACK & LEG MUSCLES WORST

Not all of our muscles are equally affected by the space environment. It seems
that certain muscles are degraded more than others. “The lower extremities” were
where most space-caused difficulty was experienced [37]. Leg and back muscles
were identified by the National Space Biology Research Institute as most
susceptible to microgravity effects [38]. Weakening was noted most often in the
legs, one source claimed [39].

12. MUSCLE TYPE CHANGED

One consequence of spaceflight was a bit unexpected to some space scientists.


Different types of muscles are favored by the space environment in that their
development is facilitated by the microgravity space milieu.

“Muscle loss may be accompanied by a change in muscle type,” Hall reported


[40]. In experiments on rats the so-called ‘fast twitch,’ white fiber muscles
predominated, whereas the bulkier, red ‘slow-twitch’ muscles decreased in
number [41]. Harrison (2001) concurred and added, “On longer flights there are
morphological changes to the muscles and muscle fibers” [42].
Muscles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 285

13. MUSCLE DAMAGE

The space environment is damaging to muscles. We have learned a number of


relatively specific- sounding muscle ailments. At this point we might consider the
notion of ‘muscle damage.’ Hall (1997) described muscle damage, “In 1987, rats
exposed to 12.5 days of weightlessness showed a loss of 40 per cent of their
muscle mass and ‘serious damage’ in 4 to 7% of their muscle fibers. The affected
fibers were swollen and had been invaded by white blood cells. Blood vessels had
broken and red blood cells had entered the muscle. Half the muscles had damaged
nerve endings” [43].

14. SHRUNKEN TISSUE

Muscular “tissue shrinks,” according to Hall (1997) [44]. By that Hall means that
the size of the muscle is reduced.

15. TWITCHING MUSCLES

In some spacefarers, “there may be muscular twitching,” observed Harrison


(2001) [45]. Hall concurred, referring to slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles [46].

16. EFFECTS OF MUSCULAR CHANGES

“Underused, flabby leg muscles affect balance, posture and strength, and can
increase the risk of tendinitis and fat accumulation,” the Discovery Channel
reported [47]. The NSBRI offered a similar perspective, “This could lead to fall-
related injuries and accidents during exploration missions” [48].

17. CAUSES OF MUSCLE CHANGES IN SPACE

What is the precise causal element in space-induced muscle degradation? Is the


agent a chemical one, or radioactive, or gravitational, or thermal? Or is a
combination of factors involved? In this section we will investigate a variety of
causal theories, involving gravity, disuse and metabolic stress.

A. Metabolic Stress
Under some extreme circumstances the human metabolism can be subjected to
abnormal stress, and the space environment certainly qualifies as unusually
stressful. Smith and Rice (2013) observed regarding astronaut muscles and
286 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

muscular loss, “The loss is believed to be related to a metabolic stress associated


with spaceflight” [49].

B. Gravity
“The removal of gravitational loading” was thought to be responsible for
“progressive changes in the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems,”
concluded Zhang et al. [50]. Harrison (2001) agreed and added that, “Thus, the
extended periods of microgravity that will accompany the Mars mission are a
source of concern” [51].

C. Disuse
This second cause of muscle issues in space is disuse, and it is related to the prior
cause, gravity. One of the reasons for muscle disuse in the space environment is
that the absence of gravity allows the muscles to relax, literally and figuratively.

“Lack of use” is why muscles atrophy according to Hall (1997) [52]. Harrison
(2001) succinctly observed that, “unused muscles become weak muscles” [53].
According to Van Pelt (2005), gravity requires humans to have adequate muscular
strength to stand erect and walk. When that oppositional force is removed so is the
need for muscles, and the human body senses that and chemical and biological
changes ensue immediately [54].

D. Multiple Causes
The final cause of space-induced muscle degradation is not a singular factor but
rather a set of causes. This is convincing to me, because in my experience reality
tends to be complex and complicated and it makes sense to me that more than one
cause exists for many social and scientific problems.

Hall (1997) pointed out a variety of variables likely to be associated with muscle
problems in space. “The damage may have resulted from factors other than simple
disease, in particular stress, poor nutrition and reduced circulation—all of which
are compounded by weightlessness” [55].

18. SOLUTIONS

How can the gravitational and other cosmic forces degrading muscles be
addressed or prevented? To date the astronaut record in this respect has not been
reason for optimism. A few possible solutions will be considered.
Muscles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 287

A. Exercise
Exercise seems to be the universal panacea for outer space biomedical problems.
And of course exercise is a very rational personal policy due to the health and
longevity consequences. But for spacefarers exercise is very vital.

“To counter these effects, which also occur to a lesser degree in artificial gravity,
and to ensure otherwise sedentary astronauts will be strong and limber upon
arrival to Mars, the crew will have to exercise two hours daily. After returning to
Earth, they will undergo an extensive training program to restrengthen their
muscles” [56]. The Science Channel reported that the residents of the
International Space Station exercise up to four hours daily [57]. Van Pelt (2005)
noted that American astronauts would train before spaceflights for two hours daily
in preparation for that amount of exercise in space [58].

B. Nutrition and Exercise


Exercise alone is insufficient to maintain good health, weight-loss specialists and
doctors agree, good nutrition is essential as well. Both are necessary but
insufficient conditions for physical health. While astronauts are not interested in
weight loss they are of course mindful of the need to be in top physical condition.

“Astronauts currently exercise to maintain their muscle mass, but nutritional


interventions designed to reduce the muscle loss may one day be added as a
complement to the exercise program,” according to the NSBRI [59].

C. Exercise Does Not Work


Does exercise meet astronaut needs when it comes to prevention or minimization
of the muscle degradation caused by the space environment? That seems to be the
assumption of outer space policymakers. Is it warranted?

Perhaps not. Smith and Rice (2013) contended, “Exercise routines have not
succeeded in maintaining muscle mass or strength of astronauts during
spaceflight” [60].

19. SPACEFARERS SUFFER AFTER RETURN TO EARTH

Some astronauts have lost their pilots license upon return to the Earth because of the
seriousness of their vision degradation in space. The impact of the space environment
upon the muscles is just as severe and dramatic after the mission is over.
288 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

“When an astronaut returns he may no longer be able to stand if he didn’t exercise


regularly during flight,” Van Pelt cautioned [61]. Harrison noted that astronaut
muscle degradation occurs gradually and only becomes apparent when a
spacewalk requires physical activity or when the spacefarer returns to the Earth
[62].

20. MUSCULAR RECOVERY TIME

The amount of time it takes for a spacefarer to recover from the muscular
consequences of the space environment varies, of course. One of the primary
variables is the pre-flight shape the spacefarer was in and their general health.
Berinstein (2002) generalized and suggested that approximately two weeks was
the duration of recovery time needed [63].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] A.A. Harrison, Spacefaring: The Human Dimension. Berkeley, California: University of California
Press, 2001, p. 47.
[2] “How Does Spending Prolonged Time in Microgravity Affect the Bodies of Astronauts?” Scientific
American, August 15, 2005. [Online]. Available: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-
does-spending-prolonged. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[3] Harrison, Spacefaring, p. 47.
[4] P. Berinstein, Making Space Happen. Medford, New Jersey: Plexus Publishing, p. 83, 2002.
[5] C.Q. Choi, “Super Space Germs Could Threaten Astronauts,” Science, February 22, 2013. [Online].
Available: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[6] The Telegraph, “Superworms Jet Off on Space Shuttle Atlantis,” November 17, 2009. [Online].
Available: http://www.thelivingroom.com/41pegasus/02files//NASA_Bacteria_o3.html. Accessed 8th
Mar. 2014, p. 9.
[7] J.C. Chavis, and G. Adcock, “Effects of Space Travel on the Human Body,” March 11, 2010.
[Online]. Available: http://www.brighthub.com/science/space/articles/65935.aspx. Accessed 5th Mar.
2014, p. 1.
[8] “What are the Health Risks Facing Humans on Long-Term Space Flights?” July 17, 2013. [Online].
Available: http://www.spacestackexchange.com/questions177/what-are-the-health-risks-facing-
humans-on-long-term-space-flights. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[9] Y. Kazuyoshi, “A New Era of Space Medicine for Space Tourism,” Architectural Design, vol. 70, no.
2, p. 23, March 2000.
[10] Telegraph, “Superworms,” p. 9.
Muscles Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 289

[11] Boni, Isabelle, “Biological and Psychological Effects of Human Space Flight,” The Triple Helix
Online: A Global Forum for Science in Society, April 24, 2012. [Online]. Available:
http://triplehelixblog.com/. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 2.
[12] National Space Biomedical Research Institute, “The Body in Space,” 2014. [Online]. Available:
http://www.nsbri/org/DISCOVERIES-FOR-SPACE-and-EARTH/The –Body-in-Space/. Accessed
5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[13] “Known Effects of Long-Term Space Flights on the Human Body,” The Discovery Channel, 2014.
[Online]. Available: http://www.racetomars.ca/mars/article/_effects.jsp. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 2.
[14] L. Kim, “Commercial Space Travel Carries Implications for Health. UCSF-Led Research Team
Suggests Developing Health Screening Standards for Citizen Astronauts,” December 14, 2012.
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health-implications-health. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
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Accessed 17th Mar. 2014, p 3.
[16] M. Van Pelt, Space Tourism. New York: Plexus Publications, 2005, p. 54.
[17] Harrison, Spaceflight, p. 47.
[18] “How Does,” p. 1.
[19] S. Smith, and B.L. Rice, Space Travel & Nutrition, 2013. [Online]. Available:
http://www.faqs.org/nutrition/Smi-Z-/Space-Travel-and-Nutrition/html. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p.
2.
[20] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[21] “How Does,” p. 1.
[22] United States, National Aeronautical and Space Administration, “Andromeda Strain 2: NASA’s
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pp. 3-4.
[23] Berinstein, Making, p. 83.
[24] Science Channel, “What Health Risks do Astronauts Face?” N. d. [Online]. Available:
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[25] NSBRI, “The Body,” p. 1.
[26] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 2.
[27] Harrison, Spaceflight, p. 47.
[28] Harrison, Spaceflight, p. 47.
[29] Harrison, Spaceflight, pp. xii, 47.
[30] Harrison, Spaceflight, pp. xii, 46-7.
[31] Telegraph, “Superworms,” p. 9.
[32] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[33] Berenstein, Making, p. 83.
[34] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 2.
[35] “How Does,” p. 1.
[36] Berinstein, Making, p. 83.
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[39] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 2.
[40] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[41] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
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[43] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[44] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[45] Harrison, Spacefaring, p. 47.
[46] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[47] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects,” p. 2.
[48] NSBRI, “The Body,” p. 1.
[49] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 2.
290 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[50] J. Zhang, P. Zhenhui, Y. Miaoli, Z. Xianghong, W. Junrong, X. Min, and Y.Z. Qing, “Observation of
the Morphology and Calcium Content of Vestibular Otoconia in Rats After Simulated
Weightlessness,” Acta Otolaryngol, vol. 125, no. 10, p. 3, October, 2005.
[51] Harrison, Spacefaring, p. 47.
[52] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[53] Harrison, “Artificial,” p. 47.
[54] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 54.
[55] Hall, “Artificial,” p. 3.
[56] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects,” p. 2.
[57] Science Channel, “Health Risks,” p. 1.
[58] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 54.
[59] NSBRI, “The Body,” p. 1.
[60] Smith and Rice, “Nutrition,” p. 2.
[61] Van Pelt, Space Tourism, p. 54.
[62] Harrison, Spacefaring, p. 47.
[63] Berinstein, Making, p. 8.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 291-303 291

CHAPTER 27

Microbes
Abstract: Microbes, like bacteria and microorganisms, are very small but potentially
very powerful. Microbes from the Earth are altered in the space environment and
become much more virulent and dangerous. It is possible for space destinations of
humans to be contaminated by microbes from the Earth, just as humans may bring
space microbes back to the Earth. Microbes change rapidly, and the cause of the
changes remains unknown. Clean rooms are thought to be the answer to combating
microbes but in fact that are not always entirely clean, and microbes are very adept at
escaping detection and destruction. Earth-based simulations of microgravity conditions
were shown to be suboptimal, and instead studies on worms in space are preferred.
Research on space microbes is expected to have terrestrial applications such as
enhanced hospital infection prevention. Solutions to the problem of microbes in space
were suggested.

Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans, CETEX, COSPAR, DNA-array chips,


ethylene oxide, gene, genome, International Council of Scientific Unions, Institute
of Clinical Research, methanosarcina, methyl chloride, microbe, NASA Space
Sciences Group, Permian Era, pseudomonas aerugonisa, resequencing,
ribosomal-DNA, salmonella, Simon Fraser University, University of Nottingham.

1. INTRODUCTION

It sounds like the plot for a B-grade motion picture. A rocket leaves the Earth
carrying spacefarers, but a microbe has stowed away somewhere on board. The
little bug is somehow freed from physical constraints by microgravity, and
enlarged and empowered by cosmic radiation. Upon return to the Earth the now
powerful microbe causes considerable damage until the hero of the movie learns
how to kill the superbug.

Science fiction? That might be less fiction and more science before too much
longer. It is entirely possible that mankind will contaminate outer space, and that
outer space will contaminate the Earth, and that spacefarers will be stuck in the
middle. This chapter examines the nature of microbes and the space environment
effects on these tiny organisms. The significance of the perils posed by
microorganisms in space will be documented, the ongoing research into microbes
will be considered and possible solutions suggested and discussed.

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
292 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

2. SPACE ENVIRONMENT CHANGES MICROBES

Experiments conducted in the science labs on the International Space Station and
before that on the space shuttles and Skylab have demonstrated empirically and
experimentally that the space environment changes microbes.

“A genome returned from space which has been shown to have damage that we
could define very precisely,” contended Dr. David Bailie, Canadian Research
Chair in Genomes at Simon Fraser University [1].

3. MICROBE CHANGES OCCUR RAPIDLY

Evolution is an accepted scientific fact in most circles, and we know that


organisms big and small are in a constant state of evolutionary progression.
However, microorganisms have short lifespans, meaning that generational
evolutionary change occurs relatively rapidly.

“These bugs can sense where they are by changes in their environment. The
minute they sense a different environment they change their genetic machinery so
they can survive,” claimed Dr. Cheryl Nickerson, a researcher at the Center for
Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the Arizona State University [2]. Donahue
(2008) recalled, “Germs have a short life span, but they reproduce rapidly. Thus
changes can occur in days if not hours” [3].

4. MICROBES BECOME VIRULENT IN SPACE

Not only do microorganisms change in the space environment and change rapidly.
They change for the worst. It has been documented by several studies that the
space environment increases the virulence of microbes.

Gutierrez (2013) considered the tendency for the microgravity space environment
to intensify and worsen the effects of microbes on humans. He noted that a series
of studies conducted by Dr. Nickerson on the space shuttles and on the Earth
documented that, “spaceflight actually boosted the virulence or disease-causing
potential, of the food-borne germ Salmonella” [4]. Choi (2013) concurred and
added, “The weightlessness of outer space can make germs even nastier,
researchers say” [5]. According to Gutierrez (2013), “Salmonella bacteria sent
into outer space responded to the altered gravity by becoming more virulent, with
changed expression of 167 different genes” [6].

 
Microbes Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 293

5. CAUSES OF MICROBE CHANGES

What accounts for these substantial, almost instantaneous changes in


microorganisms in the space environment? In the last section of this chapter, we
learned that Choi (2013) and Gutierrez (2013) considered weightlessness the
cause for these changes.

Radiation is another potential culprit. “It was our suspicion that the mold and
fungus, as well as other microbes including germs, were being affected and
altered by a constant bombardment of solar and other forms of radiation from
space,” Donahue asserted [7].

The same pair of causes, solar activity and cosmic radiation, were suggested by
Johnson. He noted, “Once in space, germs mutate, partly due to radiation levels
500 times higher than on Earth. They sometimes become disturbingly aggressive,
rapidly growing in unexpected places. Solar activity often causes the fungi to
grow more actively. They get nourishment from the breath, perspiration and dead
skin of astronauts” [8].

A protein may be responsible for the space-induced microbe changes. Research by


Nickerson and Wilson concluded that, “A regulatory protein Hfq appears to be
responsible for the enhanced virulence of the bacteria after the exposure to space” [9].

6. SPACEFARER LIVES ENDANGERED

Choi (2013) reported that the enhanced microbes resulting from exposure to the
space environment could endanger spacefarers [10]. Duel (2013) concurred and
discussed the danger from biofilms, which are communities of microorganisms
living on another organic life form. Duel noted:

While the majority of bacterial biofilms (formed when micro-organisms


attach themselves to surfaces living in communities) are general
harmless, some threaten human health and safety when they exhibit
greater resistance to our immune systems’ defenses and antibiotic
treatment. They can also cause severe damage to vital equipment aboard
spacecraft by corroding surfaces or clogging air or water purification
systems that provide life support for astronauts [11].

Donahue (2008) concurred with Choi (2013), and also provided an extended
explanation of the unique dangers of microbes in space:

 
294 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

The effect is much like the evolution of bacteria on Earth after years of
assault by a line-up of antibiotics. New and tougher strains are emerging
now that our existing battery of medicine cannot kill. And when it comes
to the possibility of extended travel, the discovery that germs also evolve
during exposure to radiation is significant. Of all the problems
anticipated by NASA, and other national space exploration teams in their
quest to explore space and perhaps even send a manned mission to Mars,
the evolution of a few billion germs and other microbes into a gang of
killer bugs was probably not expected. Consider that during a long trip to
Mars, estimated to take at least nine months one-way, and nine months
back, the entire crew might be wiped out by a disease that evolves on the
spaceship and strikes them mid-flight [12].

We might consider a few examples of microbe issues from spacefarer history.


Croft (2008) recalled that Streptococcus pneumonia is usually not deadly, “but
can be a potent pathogen in infants, the elderly, and people who have a weaker
than normal immune system, including astronauts on long duration spaceflights”
[13]. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a water-borne bacteria “that has been found in
the space shuttle water system, thus posing a potential hazard to humans,
especially during long-duration spaceflights” [14].

The Russian space program orbited a space station Mir that they allowed to
deorbit and crash to Earth. It is rumored that the space station was destroyed
because it was so contaminated by virulent microorganisms that it was
uninhabitable. Donahue (2008) recalled “the runaway strains of mold aboard their
15-year old space station Mir. In the end the mold not only interfered with the
electronics but began growing on metal, plastic and glass parts. The problem got
so severe we believe it was one of the main reasons Mir was abandoned and
allowed to crash into the ocean in 2001” [15].

Johnson (2013) corroborated Donahue and provided additional detail worth


considering, “The potential danger of microbes in space was made clear during a
recent mission of Mir a film kept growing across the window, reducing visibility.”
Upon return to the Earth, “officials were disturbed to discover a host of bacteria
and fungi covering the porthole.” Russian scientists discovered that the window
had been corroded by microbes, even though the window was made of quartz, set
in titanium and covered with enamel. Electronic equipment on Mir was damaged
when copper cables were oxidized and fungus was found growing on

 
Microbes Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 295

polyurethane surfaces [16]. Dr. Cynthia Collins agreed and added, “Biofilms were
rampant on the Mir space station and continue to be a challenge to the
International Space Station” [17].

One more factor must be considered when assessing astronaut danger from
microbes and microorganisms. Spacefarers are automatically in the high-risk
category because of their suppressed immune system. That has been covered in a
separate chapter but we’ll briefly reinforce that point now. McGarrigle (1984)
wrote in the Akron Law Journal that because of “diminished immunological
response brought on by living in space, man may be susceptible to less than
normally pathogenic organisms” [18]. “Space travel already weakens astronauts’
immunity and these findings reveal that astronauts may have to further deal with
the threat of disease-causing microbes that have boosted infectious abilities,”
McGarrigle added [19].

7. OUTER SPACE ENDANGERED

We generally think of how we might be endangered or threatened by others and


are not so cognizant of how others might be threatened by our actions. However,
it is very possible that we will contaminate the space environments we visit. The
point has often been made that where we go, so go our germs.

“Wherever humans go, microbes go; you can’t sterilize humans,” Dr. Nickerson
noted [20]. Diana Duel, the Holistic Health Examiner at examiner.com., reported,
“There is no denying that wherever humans travel they take a host of bacterium
with them” [21]. Nickerson noted that even if humans travelled to the bottom of
the sea or into orbit, “our microbes go with us” [22].

“Human beings and their machines regularly transfer terrestrial microbes into
space with them,” Pass (2008) claimed. He added that we must be cognizant that,
“the potential harm posed by Earth microbes and extraterrestrial conditions may
in fact result in new medical problems never witnessed before in various ways
(e.g., new forms of pathogens or a rapid rate of infection)” [23]. Pass (2008)
added a stern conclusion, “The experiences with the Mir space station proved
positively that humans bring microorganisms with them that contaminate their
spacecraft even when it launches in pristine conditions. Humans bring
microorganisms with them, making any pretense of a germ-free environment

 
296 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

impossible to maintain when living in space within closed physical environments”


[24].

8. EARTH ENDANGERED

It is indeed true that we take our microbes to space. It is also true, in a natural tao
or state of balance, that whatever we encounter in space we will back to the Earth,
along with mutated versions of whatever we unintentionally took to space.

McGarrigle (1984) articulated a series of accepted facts regarding our


preparedness for microbiological contamination:

Some fundamentals that suggest correct techniques and some general


types of procedural rules that should be followed are listed below.
Fundamental ideas; Microbial contamination can exist and yet not be
readily detectable in the usual sense;

The contamination may be odorless, tasteless and invisible;

Instantaneous monitoring devices for organisms, comparable with devices for


detecting radioactive contaminants are not available;

It is important to understand the ease with which microorganisms can be made


airborne in small particulate form and to move from place to place in air currents;

It is significant that the physical state of a microbiological contaminant is related


to the ease or difficulty of containment. Thus dried, micronized, powdered, or
lyophilized microbial preparations are much more difficult to contain than
contaminants in a wet or fluid state [25].

It should be recognized that our back contamination system presupposes that the
Earth will in fact be contaminated by a microbe from space, “Policies on defense
against back contamination must be based on the proposition that if infection of
the Earth by extraterrestrial organisms is possible, it will occur” [26].

McGarrigle provided an assessment of the risk posed to the Earth by


extraterrestrial microbes. “An organism with unfamiliar metabolic capabilities
might, through various pathways, contribute to the blocking of one of nature’s
essential cycles such as the nitrogen or sulpher cycle.” He added, “An intentional
or accidental release of microbiological organisms could have severe

 
Microbes Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 297

consequences: physical, environmental and economic. In the worst case there


could be physical infection and possible death to the researchers, astronauts, or
persons on celestial bodies such as Earth” [27].

9. CLEAN ROOMS ALLEVIATE MICROBES

We don’t want to contaminate space. So extensive and expensive precautions are


taken to prevent that from happening. For instance, “space vehicles are
exhaustively cleaned,” and before flight the vehicle is pumped full of ethylene
oxide and methyl chloride, “a lethal mixture to microorganisms” [28]. Sato (2008)
observed, “Clean rooms used in the space program already undergo extensive
cleaning and air filtering procedures” [29]. During flight astronauts wipe all
surfaces with a disinfectant and vacuum daily [30].

Not only are spacecraft and rockets cleaned before launch. They are in fact built
in clean rooms. “NASA builds its spacecraft in specialized, sterilized rooms in an
effort to minimize contamination by airborne particles. Dust, along with its
microbial partners, could potentially impair instruments and render experiments
invalid” [31].

10. CLEAN ROOMS CANNOT ALLEVIATE ALL MICROBES

A study was conducted of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kennedy Space Center
and Johnson Space Center clean rooms by Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran and
colleagues. They used ribosomal- RNA gene sequence technology to locate
microorganisms that the labs missed. “The total number of bacteria and the
diversity of bacterial species was much higher than previously detected.” It is
thought that bacteria survive in clean rooms on what little moisture is in the air,
and live on trace elements in wall paint and cleaning solvent [32].

There is another reason why clean rooms can’t stay clean and it has nothing to do
with the diligence of cleaning staff. Microbes are exceptionally difficult to kill.
“Despite these measures, such life forms thrive. It is believed bacteria escape
fumigation by hiding under plastic parts where the gas does not penetrate” [33].
Then there are some microorganisms known as “extremophiles,” or “ultra-hardy
organisms.” These microorganisms have developed resistance to commonly-used
anti-microbe chemicals and they are persistent [34].

Pass (2008) explained the deficiencies in contemporary so-called clean rooms:

 
298 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

Hitherto, it has proven impossible to fully rid a NASA clean room of


unwanted (and often undetectable) microorganisms. These
extremeophiles, defined as organisms that thrive under conditions too
extreme for human survival, represent an important threat to astronauts
and other humans who go into space. It is quite clear that this problem
requires greater attention. When organisms survive the clean room, the
facility’s name represents a misnomer. It is not clean. Many of the
cleaning methods used by NASA to clean Earth contamination from its
spacecraft have been shown to be ineffective. A further implication
looms as well. These survivors are likely to be transferred from the room
to the spacecraft, space station, and/or settlement habitat [35].

The consequences of unclean clean rooms may be deadly. Pass (2008) described
the likely results of unstemmed microbe infection, “This means that some
potentially harmful organisms are likely to come aboard spacecraft with human
beings, even with the use of improved sterilization techniques advocated by
Venkateswaran and his colleagues. For human missions, this can result in health
and even mortality issues” [36].

11. SIGNIFICANCE OF MICROBES


Microbes are significant entities. They have qualitative and quantitative
significance. Both will be examined in this section.

A. Qualitative Significance
The microbial danger posed by the space environment is considerable. Choi
(2013) described the danger, “Microgravity apparently causes many genes linked
with Salmonella’s virulence to switch off and on in ways not seen in Earth labs.
The same appears to happen with bacterial genes linked to resistance against
stress and the formation of fortress-like structures known as biofilm” [37].

The lethal power of microbes is a matter of fact. They may be relatively small but
they are truly potent pathogens. An example from the Permian era might be
considered. Netburn (2014) alleged, “Tiny microbes on the bottom of the ocean
floor may have been responsible for the largest extinction event our planet has
ever seen, according to a new study” [38].

The extinction that ended the Permian Era began about 252 million years ago and
lasted for 20,000 years. It was “the most catastrophic mass extinction the Earth
has ever seen,” and 90% of life on the Earth ceased to exist [39]. The microbes in

 
Microbes Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 299

this case were so small that one billion of them could fit in a thimbleful of ocean
sediment [40].

The gravity of this microbe-induced extinction was described by Gregory


Fournier, “It was not as dramatic as the impact that killed the dinosaurs, but it was
worse. Things were very close to being over for good” [41]. Methanosarcina was
the microbe responsible for all the death, which resulted from the “methane-
spewing” nature of the microorganism [42].

B. Quantitative Significance
Not only is the risk posed by microbes in space a significant one, but the quantity
of the problem may be substantial as well. Johnson (2013) noted, “Scientists have
been startled to learn that some 250 species of bacteria and fungi can live and
even thrive in outer space” [43].

12. MICROGRAVITY STUDIES ON EARTH ARE SUBOPTIMAL

It is difficult to study the effects of microgravity and the space environment.


Studies conducted in space are very expensive and there are numerous legitimate
scientific projects competing for limited space on the ISS. But the only other way
to study the effects of space is to conduct simulations. The problem is that Earth-
based simulations are problematic.

“Although microgravity can distort normal biology, conventional procedures for


studying microbes on Earth can cause their own distortions,” Choi (2013)
observed [44]. Terrestrial experiments simulating microgravity involve spinning
material, which induces a laboratory- induced phenomenon called fluid shear.
Choi (2013) noted, “The shear that experiments on Earth introduce could twist
results” [45].

13. SPACE WORM STUDIES

It appears that terrestrial simulations of the space environment are suboptimal


ways of experimenting on this subject. Instead, research conducted on worms in
space seems a better way of doing science on this topic.

The Caenorhabditis. elegans worm is the preferred surrogate for humans in this
type of research. These small creatures share 50% of the genes with humans and

 
300 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

these worms have “the basics of higher organisms--muscle, gut, nervous system,
skin, complex reproductive system,” according to CBC News [46]. The Canadian
Space Agency concurred and added that the worm is a favorite among medical
researchers because the entire gene sequence of the worms is known [47]. “They
are the perfect substitute for studying long-term changes in human physiology,”
noted Dr. Nathan Szewczyk, from the University of Nottingham’s Institute of
Clinical Research [48]. The C. elegans worm is a hardy creature. In 2003, this
worm was en route to space in the Columbia space shuttle when tragedy struck
and the mission came to an abrupt halt. But the worms survived the accident [49].
They were recovered from the wreckage weeks later, still alive and well [50].

14. NASA STUDYING MICROBES

“NASA scientists have been studying the effects our bacteria have in space and
how the effects of space flight on bacterial physiology are relevant to human
health,” according to Duel (2013) [51]. A NASA Media Advisory in 2008
announced “four microbial experiments” [52].

15. RESEARCH LEADS TO COUNTERMEASURES

The reason behind basic and applied research is to better understand problems and
solve them. That is true of space research on microbes, as well. Luchino Cohen, a
scientist with the NASA Space Sciences Group, noted that, “It allows us to
determine the effect of space radiation on a complete genome, which we really
don’t know yet. Once we know the impact of radiation on the whole genome, we
can be better armed to develop countermeasures” [53].

16. RESEARCH HAS TERRESTRIAL IMPLICATIONS

Public funding of space projects has long been criticized for being misdirected
when there are more imminent and pressing needs for those resources here on the
Earth. One answer offered by space advocates is that space spending has
terrestrial implications.

“It is exciting to me that our work to keep astronauts healthy during spaceflight
may well translate into novel ways to prevent infectious diseases here on Earth,”
Dr. Nickerson remarked [54]. In particular, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a
prevalent and persistent hospital infection with genetic similarity to microbes
studied by Nickerson and her colleagues [55]. Dr. Cynthia Collins also recognized

 
Microbes Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 301

the terrestrial benefits of some space studies, “Beyond its importance for
astronauts and future space explorers, this research could also lead to novel
methods for treating and preventing human disease on Earth, especially in
controlling the spread of infections in hospitals” [56].

17. SOLUTIONS

This chapter has introduced us to the dangers of microorganisms. Now that we are
aware of the significance of microbes it is appropriate to consider if there are any
potential remedies or solutions.

A. Mineral Concentrations
NASA suspects that minerals might be behind the increased virulence of microbes
in space. One new study was planned to “determine if the modulation of different
mineral concentrations may be used to counteract or block the spaceflight-
associated increase in the disease-causing potential that was seen in Salmonella
during Nickerson’s first experiment” [57].

B. DNA-Array Chips
The worms used in space research are small and changes are not always apparent.
New technology may make the identification of genetic changes easier and more
effective. The Canadian Space Agency noted that on a 2008 space mission, the
DNA-chip array device “was successfully used to detect DNA damage from
worms in space” [58].

C. CETEX & COSPAR


The threat of terrestrial contamination from outer space microbes has long been
recognized. The very popular Michael Crichton novel The Andromeda Strain
popularized the notion of an outer space microbe arriving on the Earth and the
subsequent risk to the terrestrial civilization. Fortunately some steps have been
taken to alleviate such concerns.

In 1958 The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICU) was concerned with
microbial contamination. It created an organization, the Ad Hoc Committee on
Contamination by Extraterrestrial Exploration (CETEX) [59]. In 1961, “CETEX
left this duty of studying planetary exploration and possible contamination to a
branch of the ISCU, The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) [60]. There is

 
302 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

a specific department of COSPAR, the Working Group V on Planetary Biology,


later renamed ISC F, “that handles space biology” [61].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

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Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. AIAA 2008-1465, 2008, pp. 11-12.

 
Microbes Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 303

[24] Pass, “Sickbay,” p. 12.


[25] McGarrigle, “Hazardous Biological,” p. 108.
[26] McGarrigle, “Hazardous Biological,” p. 112.
[27] McGarrigle, “Hazardous Biological,” pp. 113, 115.
[28] Johnson, “Space Fungus,” p. 1.
[29] R. Sato, “NASA Finds Unknown Exremophile Stowaways,” Daily Galaxy, 2008. [Online]. Available:
http://www.thelivingroom.com/41pegasus/02files/NASA_Bacteria_03.html. Accessed 8th Mar. 2014,
p. 4.
[30] Johnson, “Space Fungus,” p. 1.
[31] Sato, “NASA Finds,” p. 4.
[32] Sato, “NASA Finds,” p. 4.
[33] Johnson, “Space Fungus,” p. 1.
[34] Sato, “NASA Finds,” p. 4.
[35] Pass, “Sickbay,” p. 12.
[36] Pass, “Sickbay,” p. 12.
[37] Choi, “Super Space,” p. 2.
[38] D. Netburn, “Study: Microbes Caused Mass Die-Off. 90% of Life on Earth Went Extinct 252 Million
Years Ago,” Los Angeles Times. Reprinted in Albuquerque Journal, p. A8, March 3, 2013.
[39] Netburn, “Die-Off,” p. A8.
[40] Netburn, “Die-Off,” p. A8.
[41] Netburn, “Die-Off,” p. A8.
[42] Netburn, “Die-Off,” p. A8.
[43] Johnson, “Space Fungus,” p. 1.
[44] Choi, “Super Space,” p. 2.
[45] Choi, “Super Space,” p. 3.
[46] Canadian Broadcasting Company, “Space Worms Land in B.C. After Hopping Shuttle.” June 25,
2007.
[47] Canadian Space Agency, “Worms in Space,” p. 8.
[48] The Telegraph, “Space Worm Jets Off on Space Shuttle Atlantis,” November 17, 2009. [Online].
Available: http://www.thelivingroom.com/41pegasus/02files/NASA_Bacteria_03.html. Accessed 8th
Mar. 2014, p. 9.
[49] CBC, “Space Worms,” p. 7.
[50] The Telegraph, “Worm Jets,” p. 9.
[51] Duel, “They Came,” p. 1.
[52] Croft, “NASA Studies,” p. 5.
[53] Canadian Space Agency, “Worms in Space,” pp. 8-9.
[54] Choi, “Super Space,” p. 3.
[55] Choi, “Super Space,” p. 3.
[56] Duel, “They Came,” p. 2.
[57] Croft, “NASA Studies,” p. 5.
[58] Canadian Space Agency, “Worms in Space,” p. 8.
[59] McGarrigle, “Hazardous Biological,” p. 136.
[60] McGarrigle, “Hazardous Biological,” p. 136.
[61] McGarrigle, “Hazardous Biological,” p. 136.

 
304 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 304-313

CHAPTER 28

Cancer
Abstract: Cancer is the topic of this chapter. Radiation causes cancer. In particular, cosmic
radiation, gamma rays, muons and x-rays are carcinogenic. The link between colon cancer
and space-based radiation was discussed. A number of specific causal mechanisms were
considered, including free radicals, HZE nuclei, and lack of antioxidants. Claims that the
outer space environment is characterized by high levels of radiation were discussed, along
with the contrary perspective. It was claimed that radiation is the biggest risk to spacefarers. It
was documented that space radiation is particularly carcinogenic. The radiation implications
of the Mars Mission were discussed. The efficacy and desirability of Earth-based vs space-
based research was examined. Solutions to space-induced cancer were analyzed, including
shielding, antioxidants and prevention.

Keywords: Acute effects, antioxidants, beta-carotine, carcinogenic, central nervous


system, chromosones, cosmic radiation, free radical, gamma ray, Georgetown
Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Curiosity moon rover, Hiroshima, ion,
ionization, Mars, Mars Society, muon, subatomic, wavelength, 56Fe.

1. INTRODUCTION

Radiation is a well-known phenomenon in the post-Hiroshima world. It is


common knowledge that excessive exposure to radiation can induce the onset and
development of cancer. And it is well-known that cancer is a deadly disease.

This chapter will document the link between radiation and cancer. Specifically,
cosmic rays, gamma rays, x-rays and muons will all be shown to be carcinogenic.
A trio of potential cancer causal mechanisms will be investigated. We will
consider assertions that the space environment is characterized by high levels of
radiation, and opposite allegations as well. The fact that radiation is the greatest
risk for spacefarers will be established, and the unusually carcinogenic nature of
space radiation will be documented. The proposed mission to Mars will be
discussed, and the necessity for additional research will be demonstrated.
Solutions including shielding, antioxidants and prevention will be considered.

2. RADIATION CAUSES CANCER

“Radiation can induce cataracts and cancer,” according to a Scientific American


report on the effects of spaceflight [1]. A story on the Discovery Channel
concurred [2].

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Cancer Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 305

“Health risks from radiation exposure may be described in terms of acute and
long-term risks. The extent and severity of acute effects is determined by the type
and amount of radiation exposure, and they range from mild and recoverable
effects, such as nausea and vomiting, to central nervous system damage and even
death,” according to a NASA document, “Why is Space Radiation an Important
Concern for Human Spaceflight?” [3]. Another NASA publication declared,
“Regardless of the source, large amounts of radiation exposure can lead to
radiation sickness and have the potential to damage the body’s chromosomes” [4].

3. COSMIC RADIATION CAUSES CANCER

There are a number of types of radiation. We can identify cosmic rays, 56Fe rays,
gamma rays, x-rays, and muons, to name a quintet of types. Each of these types of
radiation is carcinogenic. These types of radiation will be considered in the next
five sections.

The primary carcinogenic danger is probably cosmic radiation. An online source,


LiveScience, asserted that cosmic radiation is lethal [5]. Another cybersource
suggested, “Outside of the Earth’s magnetic protection, astronauts on a long-
distance flight would be exposed to a lot of high energy cosmic radiation” [6].
“Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts,” noted
Dr. Kelly O’Banion of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department
of Neurobiology and Anatomy. She added, “The possibility that radiation in space
may give rise to health problems like cancer has long been recognized” [7]. The
Discovery Channel added that, “galactic cosmic rays, can damage human cells
and produce a higher risk of cancer” [8].

4. 56FE RADIATION CAUSES CANCER

56Fe is a relatively new type of cancer. It is characterized by a high-energy


intrinsic nature. Rettner (2013) noted, “The results show that mice exposed to a
type of high-energy radiation prevalent in space, called 56Fe radiation, developed
tumors in their intestines” [9].

5. GAMMA RAYS CAUSE CANCER

The European Space Agency (2014) asserted that gamma rays pose a substantial
cancer risk to spacefarers [10]. NASA noted that, “Long-tem exposure to
radiation (high-energy electrons and protons, gamma rays and x-rays) can lead to
cancer, cell damage and damage to reproductive systems” [11].
306 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

6. X-RAYS CAUSE CANCER

Most of us are accustomed to receiving x-rays as medical diagnostic procedure.


They are safe if used sparingly. But have you noticed that the x-ray technicians
wear lead protection?

“X-rays and gamma rays can quickly cause cancers or even kill cells outright,”
according to an ESA report [12]. NASA concurred, adding that x-rays “can lead
to cancer” [13].

7. MUONS CAUSE CANCER

Muons are relatively complicated astronomical phenomenon. Their life-span is


two-millionth of a second, but that is Earth time. Muons take advantage of one of
the exceptions to the space-time continuum recognized by Albert Einstein [14].

They weigh 200 times more than an electron. Muons are created when cosmic rays
enter the Earth’s atmosphere thirty-five miles above the planet and crash into other
particles, “creating a chain reaction of subatomic debris that creates muons” [15].

Muons could be responsible for “killing vast numbers of plants and animals” [16].
It has been calculated that up to 300 billion muons per square inch could bombard
the planet, creating doses more than ten times the lethal level [17].

8. SOLAR FLARE PARTICLES CAUSE CANCER

We might consider another type of cancer risk, one resulting from solar flares.
The particulate radiation from these solar phenomenon is deadly to human beings.
Johnson (2012) claimed, “Solar flare particles: the numbers can approach 10^4
REM during a single event, and did between Apollo 16 and Apollo 17” [18].

9. COLON CANCER

There is relatively specific and convincing evidence that one particular type of
cancer, colon cancer, is produced by space radiation. Rettner (2013) noted, “Space
travel may increase the risk of colon cancer, according to a new study of mice” [19].

10. CAUSAL MECHANISMS

It is clear that radiation causes cancer. But how? What is the specific cellular or
chemical or neurological mechanism responsible for the alteration of healthy cells
Cancer Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 307

into cancer cells? Some potential causes will be examined, including free radicals,
antioxidants and HZE nuclei.

A. Free Radicals
Free radicals may sound like a revolutionary phrase from the 1960s but it in fact
refers to a chemical entity. NASA explained the importance of free radicals,
“When these highly-charged {radioactive} particles come into contact with living
tissue, they ionize molecules like water or oxygen. This reaction produces what
are known as free radicals, which can inflict damage to cells. When cellular DNA
is affected by free radicals, certain regions can become damaged, which later
manifests itself as cancer” [20].

B. HZE Nuclei
Scientists have discovered the HZE nuclei, which has become a cause for
concern. Setlow (2003) explained why, “The second main danger for human
travelers is the presence of the aforementioned HZE nuclei in cosmic rays,
because of the ionizing effect that they exert on atoms and molecules” [21].

ScienceDaily (2012) also described the dangerous properties of the HZE nuclei.
The online science source stated, “The researchers studied the impact of a
particular form of radiation called high-mass, high-charged (HZE) particles.
These particles—which are propelled through space at very high speeds by the
force of exploding stars—come in many different forms, the maze of HZE
particles like iron, combined with their speed, enable them to penetrate solid
objects such as the wall or shielding of a spacecraft” [22].

C. Beta-Carotine
The theory is as follows. Beta-Carotine suppresses uncontrolled (cancerous) cell
growth. “Cosmic radiation prevents gut cells from destroying a protein called
Beta-Carentin, which in turn, promotes uncontrolled cell growth, the researchers
said” [23].

D. Ionization and Collisions Damage Cells


NASA (2014) discussed a couple of ways that radiation causes cancer and related
cellular damage. “There are two major ways that radiation can damage cells. 1)
The water in the organism (e.g., a person’s body) absorbs a large portion of the
radiation and becomes ionized to form highly-reactive, water-derived radicals.
308 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

The free radicals then react with DNA molecules causing the breaking of
chemical bonds or oxidation. 2) The radiation collides with the DNA molecule
directly” [24].

11. RADIATION LEVELS HIGH IN SPACE

Some authorities believe that the space environment is characterized by relatively


high levels of radiation. For instance, the American Skylab Astronauts lived in
space for 87 days and received as much radiation in those three months as they
would be exposed to in three years on the Earth [25].

“The radiation environment is several hundred times more intense than on Earth,”
suggested Cary Zeitlin, a scientist with the Southwest Research Institute at a news
conference [26]. ScienceDaily observed that spacefarers are “exposed to constant
showers of various radioactive particles” [27].

12. RADIATION LEVELS NOT HIGH IN SPACE

We just learned that radiation levels in space are much higher than on the Earth.
Other sources disagree with this notion. For instance, a blog discussed cosmic
radiation and claimed, “Fortunately, the levels of this radiation are ordinarily
pretty low” [28]. ScienceDaily analyzed solar flares and reported, “This radiation
exists in low levels” [29].

13. RADIATION IS BIGGEST DANGER FOR SPACEFARERS

“An increase in cancer risks is the principle concern for astronaut exposure to
space radiation, and it is one risk that persists after landing. This concern arises
from the fact that exposure to radiation of sufficient energy causes ionization of
the molecules of living cells,” a NASA document asserted [30].

“Space radiation {is} often considered the primary hazard associated with space
travel,” another NASA report claimed. It added, “One of the biggest hazards
involved in interplanetary spaceflight is exposure to radiation” [31].

14. SPACE RADIATION IS HIGHLY CARCINOGENIC

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why it is true. But it has been observed that the type of
radiation present in the space environment is considerably more carcinogenic than
terrestrial versions. “There is experimental evidence that radiation encountered in
Cancer Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 309

space is more effective at causing the kind of biological damage that ultimately leads
to cancer than gamma or x-rays commonly encountered on Earth” [32].

15. MARS MISSION

There has been talk of a mission to Mars for a long time. Noted space expert
Robert Zubrin has formed an organization, the Mars Society, dedicated to
promotion of a manned trip to Mars. NASA sent the space rover Curiosity to Mars
to gather scientific information, including radiation data. The Curiosity trip took
253 days and covered 350 million miles. The Curiosity rover recorded
approximately two-thirds of a sievert, and that is the estimated dosage an
astronaut would receive. A dose of one sievert would equate to a 5% increased
chance of having cancer [33]. Chang (2013) reported that a Martian trip with
current technology would increase an average person’s risk of getting cancer from
21% to 24% [34]. Zubrin responded to the Curiosity data by noting, “What it
shows is that the cosmic ray dose on a Mars mission is not a show-stopper. This is
a modest proportion of overall risk” [35].

Dr. Kamal Data, a researcher at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive


Cancer Center, offered a different perspective than that proposed by Zubrin,
“Sustained exposure during prolonged space missions, such as a mission to Mars,
and lengthy stays at the International Space Station may cause significant cosmic
radiation dose accumulation in astronauts, and thus remains a long-term health
concern of space exploration” [36].

Ongoing research is attempting to address these issues. Cutting-edge studies at


NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute are targeting long-
term spaceflight issues and developing appropriate countermeasures [37].

“The only ‘unacceptable’ danger here (under our current astronaut rules) is the
annual at-most 60 REM exposure vs. the max 50 REM annual limit, at solar max
conditions,” contended Gary Johnson [38]. He added that spacefarers should retire
after one long-term space trip because a second trip would pose an unacceptable
cancer risk [39].

16. RESEARCH

Sometimes researchers are confronted with difficult decisions. When it comes to


outer space research, this is particularly true. It is extraordinarily expensive to
conduct research in space but the research findings are probably more
310 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

ecologically valid. Or, various kinds of simulations of space conditions can be


performed on the Earth.

A. HZE Nuclei Can be Studied on Earth


It is possible to conduct simulated space research on Earth using HZE nuclei
radiation. Setlow (2003) realized that, “We are able to produce HZE nuclei on
Earth and study their effects on biological material” [40].

B. Experiments in Space Needed


Even if we can use HZE nuclei, do we want to perform outer space studies in the
terrestrial realm? Setlow (2003) noted, “We cannot simulate extended periods of
low gravity and their additive effects on cells and tissues. Thus, the International
Space Station (ISS) will have an enormously important role in assessing the
health dangers for humans and in the development of potential countermeasures”
[41].

17. SOLUTIONS

Can cancer caused by the space environment be alleviated or prevented? In this


section we will consider the use of shielding to minimize spacefarer radiation
exposure, the application of Beta- Carotine as a nutritional palliative, and other
preventive measures.

A. Shielding
“The use of radiation shields” was mentioned by The Discovery Channel as a
radiation countermeasure [42]. That has been a basic element in spacefarer
protection from radiation to date. But shielding is problematic.

One problem with shields is that when radioactive elements strike them they do
not vanish but rather split into a large number of equally lethal smaller radioactive
particles. Setlow (2003) conceded, “Although the flux of cosmic ray particles is
readily attenuated by such shields, the particles split the nuclei in the shields,
which produces energetic spallation products—lower mass nuclei—that also
ionize and act as an additional source of radiation” [43]. A second source
concurred, “Shielding for GCR is far less effective as it becomes thicker, due to
the secondary particle-shower effects” [44].
Cancer Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 311

Some particles can sail right through the thickest shielding. Dr. O’Banion noted,
“Because iron particles pack a bigger wallop, it is extremely difficult from an
engineering perspective to effectively shield against them. One would have to
essentially wrap the spacecraft in a six-foot block of lead or concrete” [45].

B. Anti-Oxidants
Beta-Carotine is an antioxidant. So are Vitamin C and Vitamin E. And that is
important information because antioxidants may represent a nutritional remedy
for space-induced cancer. A NASA report suggested, “As a countermeasure,
supplementing the diets of astronauts could be extremely helpful in warding off
the ill effects of radiation because antioxidants such as vitamin C, E and beta-
carotine are known to neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals” [46]. The
Discovery Channel observed that, “anti-oxidant foods, such as blueberries and
strawberries,” are being considered by NASA nutritionists and dietary planners”
[47].

C. Prevention
Prevention is of course the preferred policy option in dealing with cancer care. It
is generally more efficient and less expensive to prevent than to alleviate
symptoms. Shubhankar Suram, a Georgetown University researcher, noted,
“Knowing how space radiation induces tumor foundation will allow us to develop
preventive strategies that target this specific targeting pathway.” Another
Georgetown University researcher, Dr. Albert Fornace, predicted that drugs might
one day be available to protect spacefarers from the effects of radiation [48].

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] “How Does Spending Prolonged Time in Microgravity Affect the Bodies of Astronauts?” Scientific
American, August 15, 2005. [Online]. Available: http://www.scentificamerican.com/article-how-
does-spending-prolong/. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 2.
[2] The Discovery Channel, “Known Effects of Long-Term Space Flights on the Human Body,” 2013.
[Online]. Available: http://www.racetomars.ca/mars/article_effects.jsp. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 2.
312 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

[3] United States, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Why is Space Radiation an
Important Concern for Human Spaceflight?” [Online]. Available: http://www.nasa.gov/radiation.
Accessed 26th Mar 2014, p. 1
[4] United States, NASA. “Radiation,” 2014. [Online]. Available:
http://www.isset.org/nasa/tss/aerospacescholars.org/scholars/earthmars/Unit4/radiation.htm. Accessed
25th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[5] LiveScence, “Cancer Prevention How-To: Don’t Go to Space,” April 9, 2003. [Online]. Available:
http://www.livescience.com/36924-space-travel-colon-cancer-risk.html. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p.
2.
[6] “What Are the Health Risks Facing Humans on Long-Term Space Flights?” July 14, 2003. [Online].
Available: http://www.space.stackexchange.com/questions/177/what-are-the-health-risks-facing-
humans-on-long-term-space-flights. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[7] ScienceDaily, “Space Travel May Be Harmful to the Brain, Study Suggests. Prolonged Cosmic
Radiation Exposure Could Hasten Alzheimer’s,” December 12, 2012. [Online]. Available:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121231180632.htm. Accessed 5th Mar. 2014, p. 1.
[8] Discover Channel, “Known Effects,” p. 2.
[9] LiveScience, “Cancer Prevention,” p. 2.
[10] European Space Agency, “The Electromagnetic Spectrum,” 2014. [Online]. Available:
http://www.esa.int/Our_activities/Human_Spaceflight/Lessons_online/The-
Electromagnetic_Spectrum/(print). Accessed 25th Mar, 2014. p.1.
[11] NASA, “Radiation,” p. 1.
[12] ESA, “Electromagnetic,” p. 1.
[13] NASA, “Radiation,” p. 1.
[14] B. Berman, The Sun’s Heartbeat and Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers Our Planet.
New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2011, p. 173.
[15] P. Plait, Death from the Skies. New York: Viking Press, 2008, p. 51.
[16] Plait, Death, p. 51.
[17] Plait, Death, p. 51.
[18] G. Johnson, “Space Travel Radiation Risks,” An Ex Rocket Man’s Take on It, May 2, 2012. [Online].
Available: http://www.exrocketman.blogspot.com/2012/05/topic-of-radiation-dangers-and.html.
Accessed 27th Feb, 2014, p. 2.
[19] LiveScience, “Cancer Prevention,” p. 2.
[20] NASA, “Radiation,” p. 1.
[21] R.B. Setlow, “The Hazards of Space Travel,” Science & Society, vol. 11, no. 4, p. 1014, 2003.
[22] ScienceDaily, “Hasten Alzheimer’s,” p. 1.
[23] LiveScience, “Cancer Prevention,” p. 2.
[24] NASA, “Space Radiation,” p. 1.
[25] NASA, “Radiation,” p. 1.
[26] K. Chang, “Data Point to Radiation Risk for Travelers to Mars,” The New York Times, p. 1A, May 30,
2013.
[27] ScienceDaily, “Hasten Alzheimer’s,” p. 1.
[28] “What are the Health Risks,” p. 1.
[29] ScienceDaily, “Hastens Alzheimer’s,” p. 1.
[30] NASA, “Space Radiation,” p. 1.
[31] NASA, “Space Radiation,” p. 1.
[32] NASA, “Space Radiation,” p. 1.
[33] Chang, “Data Point,” p. 1A.
[34] Chang, “Data Point,” p. 1A.
[35] Chang, “Data Point,” p. 1A.
[36] LiveScience, “Cancer Prevention,” p. 2.
[37] “How Does Spending Prolonged Time,” p. 1.
[38] Johnson, “Radiation Risks,” p. 5.
[39] Johnson, “Radiation Risks,” p. 5.
[40] Setlow, “Hazards,” p. 1015.
[41] Setlow, “Hazards,” p. 1013.
Cancer Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 313

[42] Setlow, “Hazards,” p. 1015.


[43] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects,” p. 2.
[44] Johnson, “Radiation Risk,” p. 2.
[45] ScienceDaily, “Hastens Alzheimer’s,” p. 1.
[45] NASA, “Radiation,” p. 1.
[47] Discovery Channel, “Known Effects,” p. 2.
[48] LiveScience, “Cancer Prevention,” p. 2.
UNIT IV: CONCLUSIONS
314 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 314-323

CHAPTER 29

Quantitative Risk Estimates of Space Dangers


Abstract: The purpose of this chapter was to attempt to quantify as closely as possible the
risk posed to spacefarers and to the planet Earth by space dangers. The empirical record of
space objects striking the Earth was examined, specifically with respect to NEOs, asteroids,
meteors and comets. Potential threats from supernovas, black holes, space debris and
gamma rays were also quantified. An overall aggregate risk assessment was provided.

Keywords: Aggregate, Chevrolet Malibu, Claxton, Georgia, Comet IRAS-


Aroki-Adcock, Defense Support Program, Infra Red Astronomy Satellite, Los
Alamos, Loss of Crew and Vehicle, Peerskill, New York, Pultusk, Poland,
Sikhote-Alin Mountains, Sprucefield, Northern Ireland, Stony Tunguska River,
Sumava, Czechoslovakia, U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Space
and Astronautics, 1993 KA2, 2012 D12.

1. INTRODUCTION

This book has introduced readers to a wide variety of risks associated with space
travel. Three different categories of space dangers have been identified and
documented; intrinsic space phenomenon, transportation difficulties, and space-
induced health degradation. We considered a dozen intrinsic space dangers, a
quartet of specific sets of transportation difficulties, and eleven particular health
consequences of the space environment.

In this chapter I will attempt to provide some degree of quantification of these


space dangers. After all, if the chances of occurrence of these space dangers are
remote or truly nonexistent, we should not be especially concerned about them.
But if there is a reasonable risk from these space dangers we ought to manifest
reasonable concern and take a reasonable reactive posture.

2. EMPIRICAL ASSESSMENT OF ASTEROID RISKS

A previous chapter described and discussed asteroids, and the general risk
associated with them. At this point we are only interested in ascertaining how
likely it is that an asteroid will cause trouble for spacefarers or the Earth. There
are unfortunately considerable reasons to appreciate the gravity of the asteroid
threat to the Earth’s neighborhood and spacefarers. We will examine the empirical
record of asteroid dangers to the Earth in this section.

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Quantitative Risk Estimates of Space Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 315

Numerous asteroids have traveled very close to the Earth. Hermes was discovered
in 1937. It has come within 780,000 km of the Earth. But because its orbit was
never well-established it is now officially a lost asteroid. Hopefully it will not be
even closer to the Earth the next time it is in our vicinity [1]. On October 30,
1937, Hermes passed within 100,000 miles of the Earth [2].

Toutatis also encountered our planet in a close call. Darling (2004) reported that
in September of 2004 it would pass within four times the distance from the Earth
to the Moon [3]. Two other very close calls occurred within two years. In 1991,
1991 BA ventured close to our planet, coming within 106,000 miles of the Earth
[4]. Two years later in 1993, 1993 KA2 ventured even closer, to about 90,000
miles from the Earth [5].

Which asteroid has come the closest to our planet? To the best of my knowledge
that designation was earned by 2012 DA14, which officially was recorded as
being 17,000 miles above the surface of the Earth [6].

QE2 and its moon sailed past the Earth in 1998. It came within 3.6 million miles,
slightly more than the three million mile threshold. But QE2 is no ordinary
asteroid. It is a giant, 1.7 miles wide [7]. It has tremendous gravitational
influence, and a collision with the Earth would have had cataclysmic
consequences for our planet.

Asteroid detection is enhanced by technology from the Cold War. The Defense
Support Program (DSP) consisted of a series of satellites in geosynchronous orbit,
designed to locate Soviet missile tests and launches. An average of eight asteroid
airbursts annually was detected by the DSP system [8]. The Los Alamos branch of
this meteor detection system reported a dozen such events each year [9].

The consequences of an asteroid strike would be devastating. Heppenheimer


(1978) reported the grim facts; a twenty-five-mile-wide crater would be blasted by
an explosion equivalent to 10,000 large hydrogen nuclear bombs [10].

The case of 2004 XR14 might be considered. It passed within approximately


269,000 miles of the Earth [11]. The asteroid was estimated as being between a
quarter-mile to a half-mile in diameter [12]. The Associated Press noted,
“Asteroid encounters are not uncommon. More than three dozen, mostly smaller,
asteroids have flown closer to Earth in the past few years” [13]. Don Yeomans,
who is director of the Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, stated that if 2004 XR14 had hit the Earth, it would have caused

 
316 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

“regional devastation” [14]. If it had hit water it would have caused a terrible
tsunami, according to Brian Marsden, Director of the Minor Planet Center [15].

3. EMPIRICAL ASSESSMENT OF METEOR RISKS

I can’t recall too many meteorite stories in the news over the years. Is that because
there aren’t many, or because they are not considered newsworthy? And of course
a large percentage of meteorite strikes take place in the Earth’s oceans, which
dominate the planet’s surface, or in the Earth’s uninhabited areas. In this section
we’ll quantify meteorite strikes and acknowledge a few close calls.

“Over 3,000 such meteorites, each weighing over 2 lb (1 kg) reach Earth every
year,” according to Ridpath (2006) [16]. Tyson (2009) mentioned that, “Earth
plows through hundreds of tons of meteors a year” [17]. A more specific estimate
of meteorite incidence was provided by Burnham (2000). He reported that
spaceborne detectors identified 136 meteorite impacts between 1975 and 1992.
Each of these detonations involved at least one kiloton of energy. Burnham (2000)
estimated that 80 meteorite strikes of at least one kiloton occur annually [18].

Six noteworthy meteors struck between 1868 and 1969. The initial strike in that
century-length time period occurred in Pultusk, Poland, on January 30, 1868. An
estimated 100,000 meteorites fell after a fireball exploded overhead [19]. Craters
the size of football fields were formed when a meteorite fell on the Sikhote-Alin
mountains in Siberia on February 12, 1947 [20].

Claxton, Georgia, was hit by at least 36 meteorites on December 10, 1984. One of the
meteorites knocked down a mailbox [21]. A Chevrolet Malibu was struck by a
meteorite on October 10, 1992, in Peerskill, New York [22]. The Sprucefield,
Northern Ireland Police Station was hit by two meteorites on April 25, 1969 [23]. The
best-known of these half-dozen meteorite strikes occurred in Pueblito de Allende, a
village just south of Chihuahua, Mexico. Two tons of meteorites fell that day [24].

A carbonaceous chondrite meteorite fell in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on March


31, 1965. It generated a seismic wave comparable to a medium-strength
earthquake and the energy equivalent of several kilotons of TNT was generated
[25]. The more recent Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 has already been discussed
[26].

A very close call took place on August 19, 1972. Heppenheimer (1979) recalled
that a “great meteor grazed Earth’s atmosphere and barely missed impacting the

 
Quantitative Risk Estimates of Space Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 317

surface.” Scientists calculated that the impact would have been equivalent to the
atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 [27].

The consequences of meteor and meteorite strikes can be deadly. In space, these
space objects can destroy man-made space objects. Van Pelt (2005) observed, “In
the past, satellites have been destroyed by meteor storms” [28].

And meteorites can pose perils to those on the Earth, as well. Plait (2002) recalled
that a meteor strike is believed to have ended the reign of the dinosaurs. The
meteorite was ten km (6 miles) in diameter [29].

4. EMPIRICAL ASSESSMENT OF COMET RISKS

No consideration of comets would be complete without including the Tunguska


strike. In this section we will briefly review that event and also a few other
examples of comets. The erratic nature of comet orbits will be documented, and a
series of five comets within five years will be discussed.

On June 30, 1908, a small comet (or asteroid) struck in a desolate, uninhabited
part of Siberia. The relatively small space object was approximately 60 meters
(200 feet) in diameter, and it impacted above the Stony Tunguska River [30].
“The brightest fireball ever photographed by astronomers” came to a halt in the
southwestern Czechoslovakian town of Sumava on December 4, 1973. The space
object was about the size of a London bus and weighed approximately 250 tons.
The comet had a density 0.2 times that of water and it disintegrated in less than
three seconds [31].

Comet IRAS-Araki-Alcock was identified simultaneously by a trio of observers.


Initially, the Infra Red Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) discovered this comet from
space, followed soon after by announced sightings from Japanese and British
observers using binoculars. In May, 1983, this space object came closer to the
Earth than any other comet had in 200 years [32].

Japanese astronomer Yuji Hyakutake discovered a long-period comet in January


of 1996. This comet, designated 1996 B2, was approximately 0.10 AU away from
the Earth, or 15,000,000 km [33].

Other close calls can be cited and considered. Burnham (2000) reported five examples
of recent close cometary encounters and added a chilling note about when these
comets were discovered: In 1989, one passed at twice the Moon’s distance, and in

 
318 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

January 1991, an object zipped by at less than half the distance to the Moon. In May
1993 another object came by a little closer, and in March 1994 so did another. In
December 1994, one missed us by less than the Moon’s distance. Nearly all of these
were found only a couple of days before they made their closest approach to Earth.
Moreover, because the surveys are limited, astronomers are painfully aware that
searches are catching only a fraction of those near-misses [34].

Is there a trend towards comet orbits in close proximity to Earth? That is what
Schaaf (1997) seemed to be suggesting, “Twice in just over two centuries, comets
have come within 3 million miles of the Earth, and there have been a number of
not much more distant approaches” [35].

One more comment about the empirical comet track record is deserving of
mention. Comets have relatively erratic orbits due to their composition. When
comet orbits pass close by the Sun orbital alteration is quite possible, making
these space objects extraordinarily dangerous. Lewis (1998) noted that, “These
comets have random orbits around the Sun, about half traveling in retrograde
orbits, opposite in direction to the sense of orbital motion of the planets. Clearly
they represent a significant collisional hazard to all the planets” [36].

5. TRANSPORTATION SPACE RISKS

It is no overstatement to contend that rockets are relatively and absolutely


dangerous. They are the most unreliable mode of transportation ever invented, in
relative terms. In an absolute sense, they are seriously suboptimal in terms of
safety.

The NASA goal of rocket launch reliability was set relatively high, at 99.9% [37].
Tabarrok (2004) projected that it would take several years of research and
development to raise the current safety level:

Figure One shows a logistic curve estimated on the basis of probability of


total failure since 1970. Extrapolating on the basis of the curve we find a
1 in 10,000 failure rate is not achieved until 2217. Consider instead a
failure rate of 1 in 1,000, which would be extremely high even for those
who take to bungee jumping; at current rates of progress we will achieve
that level of safety only in 2130. It’s possible, of course, that we will
dramatically improve our rate of progress in rocket safety. If we were
able to double our rate of progress, for example, then we could achieve a
level of safety of 1 in 10,000 by 2088 [38]. The American Space Shuttle

 
Quantitative Risk Estimates of Space Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 319

served as the country’s sole means of access to space until it was phased
out. Hopkins, Andrews and Andrews (2001) reported, “There is a 1 in 7
chance of losing a vehicle during its 3,000 flight lifetime” [39].
Respected space expert Robert L. Hudgins suggested, “Clearly, NASA’s
FBC (faster, better, cheaper) strategy has resulted in 1 of 3 space science
spacecraft failing” [40]. Tabarrok (2004) provided American rocket
failure rates by decade. In the 1960s, the 12% failure rate was considered
acceptable, but has declined since. In the 1970s the failure rate fell to
5.2%, and since then “has hovered between four and five percent” [41].

‘Transportation failures’ sounds like a painless phenomenon. We should bear in


mind that when a rocket fails so do the lives of the occupants. Van Pelt (2005)
recalled that the historical ratio for fatalities in space travel was one in sixty.
Space tourist Dennis Tito testified before the House Subcommittee on Science’s
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics that eleven of 415 spacefarers to date
had perished, a three per cent fatality rate [42].

6. OVERALL SPACE DANGER RISKS

It would be useful to have a solid idea of the relative degree of risk from the space
dangers discussed in this book. We can consider such information, to a large
extent. In this section we will discuss quantitative views of the relative risk from
space dangers such as asteroids, comets, meteors, comets and asteroids combined,
space debris, gamma rays, supernovas and black holes.

A. Asteroids
Much more is known about the degree of relative risk posed by asteroids than by
the other types of space objects. Plait (2008) thought the odds of fatality from an
asteroid were one in 700,000 [43]. Schaaf (1997) quantified the relative risk in a
different way, noting that an Earth-crossing asteroid of 1015 grams in size will
strike the Earth every 300,000 years [44].

Asteroid collisions every 84,000 years were reported by the Associated Press [45]. A
NASA website, “Ask an Astrophysicist,” calculated the odds of an asteroid (1/2 to 1
km) strike on the Earth to be once every 1,000 centuries [46]. Another NASA
document observed that the odds of an impact within ten years to be 1 in 10,000 [47].

A sobering projection was provided by Reynolds (2001). He estimated that an


asteroid between a half-mile and mile in diameter should strike the Earth every

 
320 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

200,000 years [48]. Landau (2013) estimated that an asteroid half the size of a
football field would collide with our planet every 1,200 years [49].

B. Comets
How likely is an imminent comet strike? Probably not very imminent, but it has
been awhile since the last major comet strike. Schaaf (1997) claimed that the
Earth is “bombarded with as many as two dozen comet impacts in a million-year
period” [50]. A 1998 NASA report claimed that a ½ km or 1 km comet would
impact the Earth once every 5,000 centuries [51].

C. Meteors
The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteorite necessitated a rethinking of conventional
wisdom on the size of dangerous space objects. Previously, it was thought that
anything less than a kilometer in diameter posed no serious risk to the Earth. Yet
an object half that size sent thousands to the hospital with temporary blindness
and damaged numerous buildings. According to an Associated Press report, space
objects larger than fifty feet in diameter are serious, and a meteor of that size will
hit the Earth every thirty years instead of every 150 years as was once thought
[52].

D. Comets & Asteroids


Asteroids and comets are sometimes combined in analyses of space objects. Plait
(2008) estimated the odds of a person being killed by an asteroid or comet to be
about one in 700,000 [53]. Burnham (2001) suggested that the chances of asteroid
or comet impacts were much greater, about one in 20,000 [54].

In the astronomical mid-term, Plait (2008) suggested that the odds of a comet or
asteroid impact were 100%. He contended that there will be impacts and that
eventually one will be cataclysmic [55].

E. Space Debris
The chapter on space debris documented the seriousness of the risks posed to
spacefarers by cosmic garbage. Ashford (2002) estimated that a space station
would be struck once every 200 years [56]. NASA analyzed how long NASA
space vehicles might last in space. The “Loss of Crew and Vehicle” (LOCV)
event likelihood was calculated at one in 185 missions [57].

 
Quantitative Risk Estimates of Space Dangers Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 321

F. Gamma Rays
Plait (2008) calculated the odds that gamma rays might cause substantial damage
on the Earth through ozone depletion leading to increased cancer rates. The Earth
could possibly be set afire by a sufficient amount of concentrated gamma rays.
The odds of all this devastation are one in 14,000,000 [58].

G. Supernova
Plait (2008) considered the risk level for the Earth from supernovas to be slightly
less than the gamma ray risk. These odds were one in 10,000,000 of fatality from
a supernova [59].

H. Black Holes
It is unlikely that the Earth will be destroyed by a meandering black hole. Plait
(2008) put the odds at one in 1,000,000,000,000 [60]. It is possible to visually
examine these space danger risks. Please see Table 1.

Table 1: Aggregate Space Danger Risk Calculations

Category Category Odds of Danger


Number Name
1 Asteroids Every 300,000 years Every 84,000 years Every 100,000 years Every
200,000 years Every 1,200 years Every 10,000 years
2 Comets 2 Dozen Impacts Every Million Years Every 500,000 years
3 Meteors Every 30 years
4 Comets & Every 20,000 years Every 700,000 years
Asteroids
5 Space Debris Every 200 years One in 185 chances of failure
6 Rockets 1 in 185 failure rate 1 in 1,000 failure rate 1 in 7 failure rate 1 in 3
spacecraft failed 12.5% failure rate 4.5% failure rate 1 death per 60 flights
3% of spacefarers have died
7 Gamma Rays 1 in 14,000,000 risk
8 Supernovas 1 in 10,000,000 risk
9 Black Holes 1 in 10,000,000,000 risk

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

 
322 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.

REFERENCES
[1] D. Darling, The Universal Book of Astronomy: From the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zones of
Avoidance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 230.
[2] C. Peebles, Asteroids: A History. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute, 2000, p. 58.
[3] Darling, Universal Book, p. 492.
[4] Peebles, History, p. 78.
[5] Peebles, History, p. 79.
[6] E. Landau, “So, About That Asteroid Near Earth,” CNN, February 8, 2003. [Online]. Available:
http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/07/us/asteroid-approach-earth. Accessed 4th June, 2013, p. 1.
[7] redOrbit, “Asteroid QE2 and its Moon Complete Safe, Successful Fly-By of Earth,” June 1, 2003.
[Online]. Available: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1112862589/asteroid-1998-qe-s. Accessed
4th June 2014.
[8] Peebles, History, pp. 211-12.
[9] Peebles, History, pp. 211-12.
[10] T.A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns. Ontario, Canada: Stackpole Books, 1979, p. 203
[11] Associated Press, “Asteroid Flies Harmlessly Past the Earth,” Albuquerque Journal, p. D3, July 5,
2006.
[12] A. P., “Harmlessly,” p. D3.
[13] A. P., “Harmlessly,” p. D3.
[14] A. P., “Harmlessly,” p. D3.
[15] A. P., “Harmlessly,” p. D3.
[16] I. Ridpath, Astronomy. New York: D.K. Publishing, 2006, p. 125.
[17] N.D.G. Tyson, The Pluto File: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, 2009. p. 55.
[18] R. Burnham, Great Comets. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 212.
[19] M. D. Reynolds, Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania:
Stackpole Books, 2001, pp. 55-7.
[20] Reynolds, Falling, p. 56.
[21] Reynolds, Falling, p. 56.
[22] Reynolds, Falling, p. 56.
[23] Reynolds, Falling, p. 57.
[24] Reynolds, Falling, p. 57.
[25] I. Ridpath, Messages from the Stars. New York: Harper & Row, 1978, p. 199.
[26] redOrbit, “Asteroid QE2,” p. 1.
[27] Heppenheimer, Distant, p. 218.
[28] M. Van Pelt, Space Tourism. New York: Copernicus Books, 2005, p. 40.
[29] P. Plait, Bad Astronomy. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p. 138.
[30] Burnham, Great, p. 200.
[31] Ridpath, Messages, p. 97.
[32] F. Schaaf, Comet of the Century. New York: Copernicus Books, 1997, p. 15.
[33] Darling, Universal Book, pp. 242-3.
[34] Burnham, Great, p. 208.
[35] Schaaf, Comet, p. 21.
[36] J.S. Lewis, Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown. Reading,
Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998, p. 144.
[37] L. Sarsfield, “The Arrival of Tomorrow: NASA in the 21st Century,” In Hudgins, E.L. Ed., Space:
Free Market Frontier. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2002, p. 37.

 
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[38] A. Tabarrok, “Is Space Tourism Ready for Take-Off: Probably Not?” Tech Central Station,
November 11, 2004. [Online]. Available: http://www.2.techcentralstation.com/1051/printer/
jsp?CID=1051-111804C. Accessed 3rd Jan. 2006, p. 1.
[39] J. Hopkins, D. Andrews, and J. Andrews, “LEO Passenger Travel Requirements Discussion.” Fifty-
Second International Aeronautics Federation Congress, Toulouse, France. IAA#-01-IAA-1-3-05,
October 1, 2001, p. 1.
[40] Sarsfield, “Tomorrow,” p. 45.
[41] Tabarrok, “Take-Off,” p. 1.
[42] Van Pelt, Tourism, p. 37; United States, D. Tito, “Space Tourism.” U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, p.91,
June 26, 2001.
[43] Plait, Bad, p. 138.
[44] Schaaf, Comet, p. 98.
[45] Associated Press, “Harmlessly,” p. D3.
[46] United States, NASA. “Ask an Astrophysicist,” [Online]. Available: http://www.imagine.gsct.nasa.
gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/danger.htm. Accessed 4th June, 2013, p.1, September, 1998.
[47] United States, NASA, “Is Earth in Danger of Being Hit by an Asteroid?” 2013. [Online]. Available:
http://www.imagine.gsct.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro.answers/danger.htm. Accessed 4th June, 2013, p. 2,
2013.
[48] Reynolds, Falling, p. 13.
[49] Landau, “About That,” p. 1.
[50] Schaaf, Comet, p. 90.
[51] NASA, “Ask,” p. 1.
[52] S. Borenstein, “Dangerous Meteor Strikes Now Considered More Likely. Russian Blast Has Raised
Concerns,” Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal, p. A8, November 7, 2013.
[53] Plait, Bad, p. 32.
[54] Burnham, Great, p. 213.
[55] Plait, Bad, p. 300.
[56] D. Ashford, Spaceflight Revolution. London: Imperial College Press, 2002, p. 96.
[57] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Debris Risk for Atlantis Mission Now at Last
Year’s Level,” Daily Launch, April 16, 2009, p. 3.
[58] Plait, Bad, p. 299.
[59] Plait, Bad, p. 299.
[60] Plait, Bad, p. 299.

 
324 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 324-332

CHAPTER 30

Conclusion
Abstract: This concluding chapter summarizes the entire work and points to some
conclusions. The three main units of the book, (intrinsic space dangers, rocket risks and
the health consequences of space) were discussed in general terms and summarized.
Then a series of main conclusions was provided. The chapter ended with a few caveats
and reservations about research methodology.

1. INTRODUCTION

This has been a long and detailed book about the potential dangers of outer space.
Specifically, I have examined the space environment surrounding Earth as the focus
of our analysis of space dangers. My purpose has been to discern the dangers
confronting the planet Earth and spacefarers in the immediate cosmic neighborhood.

A trio of subjects will be considered in this concluding chapter. Initially, the three
main units of this book will be summarized. Therefore, the intrinsic space
dangers, rocket risks and the health consequences of space will be summarized
and a few major findings offered.

The second major part of this final chapter provides a series of main conclusions.
These overall, on-balance study results are based on analysis of the entire range of
space dangers.

Finally this chapter concludes with an acknowledgment of certain methodological


caveats and reservations. All methods of scholarly research have some caveats,
and my integrative methods are no different. Some caveats will be discussed
along with my methods of reducing their impact.

2. SUMMARY OF MAIN FINDINGS

This book was divided into three main sections, or units. Each was itself a penumbra
of sorts under which a number of diverse subjects was included. These three overall
topics were intrinsic space dangers, rocket risks and health consequences of space.

A. Intrinsic Space Dangers


Outer space can be a dangerous place. Zero gravity, no atmosphere and extreme
thermal conditions characterize this space just beyond our planet. In the first

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
Conclusion Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 325

section of this book a series of dangers in space was described. These dangers are
summarized in Table 1.
Table 1: Intrinsic Space Dangers

Category Number Category Title Natural or Man-Made


1 Asteroids Natural
2 NEOs & NEAs Natural
3 Comets Natural
4 Meteors Natural
5 Space Debris Mostly Man-Made, Some Natural
6 Satellites Man-Made
7 Radiation Mostly Natural, Some Man-Made
8 Black Holes Natural
9 Space Weather Natural
10 Centaurs Natural
11 Supernova Natural
12 Superbubbles Natural

All of these astronomical phenomena and man-made space objects pose a danger
to spacefarers in the immediate Earth environment. There are a few main findings
concerning these intrinsic space dangers deserving of consideration.

Initially, a relative risk calculation can be considered. Based upon the research
conducted in the preparation of this book I would suggest the following tabular
depiction of space danger relative risk frequency. See Table 2.
Table 2: Estimated Risk Level of Space Dangers

Number of Category Category Title Estimated Risk Level


1 NEOs & NEAs Primary
2 Space Debris Primary
3 Space Weather Primary
4 Asteroids Secondary
5 Comets Secondary
6 Meteors Secondary
7 Satellites Secondary
8 Radiation Secondary
9 Black Holes Tertiary
326 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

10 Centaurs Tertiary
11 Supernovas Tertiary
12 Superbubbles Tertiary

1) Beyond my holistic assessment of the risk level posed by these varied


space dangers it is possible to suggest a number of specific space danger
generalizations. Initially we might consider a few near-term conclusions.
There is a wide variety of astronomical and man-made space dangers.

2) These space dangers vary in type, the likelihood of danger becoming


actualized, and the severity of consequences of occurrence. Planet
Earth probably faces the greatest risk from space weather, NEOs and
NEAs and lost asteroids. Spacefarers are most endangered by space
debris, space weather and cosmic radiation.

The paradox of space is that while there is a virtually infinite amount of space in
space, the immediate Earth environment is characterized by extreme saturation.
Near Earth Orbit satellites and space debris have created a significantly cluttered
and dangerous environment. In the long term, my calculations are different. In my
opinion the greatest long-term space danger confronting the Earth will involve a
catastrophic comet or meteor strike. We are in fact overdue for a recurrence of
past global crises caused by space objects colliding with the Earth. A second
probable future space danger incident will result from radiation. Galactic cosmic
rays, solar particles, radiation with HZE nuclei and muons are patient and
persistent space environment dangers. Perturbation is likely to occur under space
circumstances conducive to another future crisis. Deep in the Oort Cloud an
asteroid will be nudged from its previous orbit, or a Sun- skipping comet will skip
a bit too close and be perturbed by the Sun into a new deadly orbit. My fourth and
final long-term space danger occurrence may seem far-fetched. In my opinion it is
likely that the Near-Earth space environment may become a prison of sorts,
trapping us on our planet. The space environment is already badly saturated and
that will only worsen due to the increasing number of natural space objects and
the generation of additional man-made space debris. All of the spacefaring nations
freely polluted space in the past, and it must be assumed that similar despoliation
will reoccur, on purpose or by accident. It is conceivable that a Kessler syndrome-
like phenomenon will happen where the Earth space environment becomes a
demolition derby of satellites, spacecraft and natural objects smashing into each
other in a series of collisions, each inducing a series of additional perturbation,
reorbited space objects and collisions.
Conclusion Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 327

B. Rocket Risks
It is not difficult to summarize rocket risks. Rockets are, simply put, the most
dangerous method of transportation ever invented. Please consider some
generalizations about rocket risks. Rocket transportation is inherently risky. Based on
the historical record, and the present state-of-the-art, rockets are undeniably a
relatively risky way to travel. At the present time, rocket transportation is the only way
to travel to space.

Rocket transportation can only become safer. It is likely that substantial safety
improvements will be made in the near term. Nevertheless, rocket travel will remain
a voluntary and dangerous mode of transport. Catastrophic accidents will occur. It is
virtually if not actually inevitable that spacecraft will explode and adopt terminal
trajectories during take-off, experience catastrophic failures while in space, and
crash during landing. As long as spacefarers are cognizant of the risks associated
with spaceflight and have immunized the space tourism industry against liability in
case of accident, I see nothing wrong with individuals being able to choose to avail
themselves of rocket transportation. Of course, complete informed consent is
assumed, and is the basis for my belief. Individuals who are endangered by rocket
accidents because of their physical proximity to launch facilities or flight plans are
not protected by informed consent and are subjected to involuntary risk. These
victims of rocket dangers can always avail themselves of civil and administrative
remedies to compensate them for their losses and damages incurred.

C. Health Consequences
The health consequences of the outer space environment were also considered. In
fact, about a dozen well-documented types of negative effects of the space
environment were discussed in detail. These medical maladies resulting from
microgravity were summarized in Table 3.
Table 3: Health Consequences of Space

Number of Category Title Lethality Short or Long Term


Category Threshold
1 Sleep Deprivation No Short
2 Bone Degradation No Short & Long
3 Vision Impairment No Short & Long
4 Psychological No Long
5 Cardiovascular Yes Short & Long
328 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

6 Brain & Neurology No Short & Long


7 SAS No Short
8 Digestive & Immune Yes Short & Long
Systems
9 Muscles No Short & Long
10 Microbes Yes Short & Long
11 Cancer Yes Long

The health risks to human beings posed by the space environment are
considerable and deserving of respect and complete understanding. In this regard
spacefaring is no different than any other activity a person can choose to enjoy.
Thrill-seekers have long sought to sate their need for risky experiences with a
variety of legal and not-so-legal pastimes. Running with the bulls in Pamplona,
Spain, is not too different than parachuting from an airplane for sport or hunting
dangerous man-eating animals in the jungle. Every activity, and even inactivity
itself, has an element of risk involved.

Please consider some generalizations about the health consequences of human


exposure to the space environment. Several main systems of the human body are
adversely affected by the space environment. The neurological, musculoskeletal,
cardiovascular, vestibular, digestive, immune, and vision systems are all degraded to
an extent in space.

There appears to be a linear relationship between human space exposure and


negative health effects. That is, the longer a spacefarer lives in microgravity the
more pronounced the negative healthy consequences. Short-term effects are not quite
as severe with the prominent exception of SAS. Countermeasures are taken before,
during and after space flight to facilitate spacefarer adaptation to Earth. These
typically include careful medical monitoring, exercize, nutrition and biofeedback
techniques, along with pharmaceuticals and counseling. Although decidedly
unpleasant, the potential negative consequences of space travel are not necessarily
lethal. But most spacefarers to date have been in very good physical condition, with
military training and regular exercise regimens. The rigors of acceleration,
deceleration, microgravity and related space forces might be unpleasant but they are
not ordinarily lethal. However, someone of marginal health might disagree.

3. OVERALL CONCLUSIONS

It is difficult to summarize twenty-nine chapters of claims and documentation in


one section of one chapter. Nevertheless, that is my task at this point. With
Conclusion Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 329

apologies to all the important analysis not included in my overall conclusions,


here are a half-dozen on-balance conclusions. The initial conclusion is that space
is a dangerous environment. My point is that natural and man-made risk factors
have combined to create a hazardous space environment near the Earth, because
of space dangers, rocket risks and the health consequences of the space
environment. Natural dangers outnumber the man-made counterparts.
Astronomical phenomenon like space weather, radiation and NEOs represent
valid risks to the Earth and spacefarers.

The third overall conclusion is that there are significant man-made space dangers,
primarily space debris and satellites. Space debris probably poses a greater risk to
man-made space assets than natural space dangers. Space danger scenarios can
involve natural space dangers, man-made risks or a combination of both. NEO
monitoring and astronomical research and development investment and policies
are the most rational policy approach to adopt regarding space danger. The risk of
space dangers to spacefarers and the Earth should not be underestimated. The
badly saturated and cluttered space environment near our planet poses an on-
going risk to spacefarers, and combined with space debris and collisions the
dangers confronting spacefarers must be considered as numerous and substantial.

4. CAVEATS & RESERVATIONS

It is a fact that no scholarly method is perfect. Every system of research and


analysis is subject to some reservations, complications and issues. My method,
historical-critical or integrative scholarship, is no exception to this general rule. In
this section four such caveats will be considered; 1) Inherent subjectivity, 2) No
new data collection, 3) Inheriting the mistakes of others, and 4) Factual and
inferential inconsistency.

A. Inherent Subjectivity
We all have biases and predispositions, and subconscious tendencies and
proclivities. Some stem from parental influence, others from peer influence and
still others may result from media reports. It may well be beyond the ability of
most people to divest themselves of their personal preferences and biases. The
psychological construct known as latitudes of acceptance and rejection may well
have validity, in that some things seem to be within our range of possibility while
others remain outside them. I am no different than anyone else in this regard. My
potential for subjectivity is the same as anyone else’s, in that I am a human being
with feelings and past experiences and latitudes of acceptance and rejection.
330 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

However I also have had the benefit of educational experiences and co-curricular
activities designed to foster objectivity and mitigate subjectivity.

For what it is worth I consider myself to be a commercial space advocate. Our


planet is in danger from several sources, ranging from climate change and global
warning to nuclear proliferation to the use of chemical and biological warfare.
Traditional antibiotic effectiveness is lessening and new microbial menaces may
lie just around the corner. An off-planet capacity is essential if the human species
is to survive the planet Earth.

Commercial space development, if properly administered and regulated, is a win-


win proposition for all the major stakeholders. Economic development, jobs, tax
revenue and increased economic opportunity are only some of the fortunate
consequences of the commercial development of space.

Four years of experience in high school debate led me to college on a debate


scholarship, then a career as a debate coach and judge. Interscholastic debate as an
activity trains participants in argumentation and analysis. I believe I am able to
dispassionately consider evidence and analysis without being influenced by politics,
ideology or other dogmatic variables. Further development of my ability to
deconstruct history and reality objectively and fairly occurred during my doctoral tool
skill courses in historiography, the study of the patterns and tendencies of history.

One more solution to subjectivity might be mentioned. The quantity of


information reviewed in historical-critical studies is the critical variable. If the
historian-critic has thoroughly perused the literature, the preponderance of
evidence will indicate likely truth and weed out deliberate partisan or personal
allegations. That is why I quote as extensively as possible, to allow the readers to
judge my interpretations and analysis of the information reviewed in the
preparation of this book.

B. No New Data Collection


Sometimes people unfamiliar with historical-critical or integrative research fail to
understand the nature and role of data in this method. In most of this type of
research there is no new data (strictly defined) collected. No new interviews take
place, no surveys are filled out, no experiment is conducted.

That of course misrepresents the historical-critical method. In lieu of original data


collection, historian-critics peruse all of the extant information on a subject and
Conclusion Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… 331

offer new insight and directions for application. It is incumbent on an effective


historian-critic to be as comprehensive in her/his information gathering as
possible. Informational adequacy is the basis of the historical- critical method and
the best guarantee of effective research.

C. Inheriting the Mistakes of Others


Because historian-critics frequently do not conduct original empirical studies
unless necessitated by a gap in research we are vulnerable to the mistakes made
by those we have included in our analysis. This is especially true in niche subject
areas where there is not an extensive published literature. When there is limited
information available, the significance of each of the limited pieces increases
tremendously. And if one or more of these sources are mistaken or factually
inaccurate the implications are tremendous.

Fortunately the mistakes of others are seldom a problem in effective historical-


critical scholarship. That is because most of the information I examined during
this study had already been fact-checked and subject to the editorial acumen of
media gatekeepers. Only personal interviews and blog content remains generally
unedited, among the types of sources I typically peruse in historical-critical
research. And, of course, the preponderance of evidence is typically revealed
when one investigates a substantial amount of information on a topic. Some
specific facts and ideas are confirmed by other information while substantially
unconfirmed information falls along the wayside. That is the historiographical
process.

D. Factual and Inferential Inconsistency


A final, methodological quirk of mine might be mentioned. One aspect of
research I enjoy is sharing contradictory information and analysis with readers. In
my opinion most of reality is relatively complex, with a variety of stakeholders
and stakes and interrelationships and dynamics. In America the early years of the
new century have been characterized by bitter partisan disagreement between
Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and similar polarized
ethnic and political segments of society.

Not only can reality be depicted in a variety of ways on most issues, but there are
reasonably divergent perspectives on most if not all situations. Media reports
reflect these divergent perceptions and I am always careful to include authorities
along the entire sociopolitical spectrum. So it is likely that a careful reader is
332 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers… Dirk C. Gibson

going to encounter contradictory factual statements, and analytic inferences, but


try not to be bothered by them. This discrepant information is merely a
manifestation of the complexity of reality, perception, and mediated
communication.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None declared.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The author confirms that this chapter contents have no conflict of interest.
Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers, 2015, 333-341 333

Subject Index

A thousands of 7, 132
Absorption clouds 116, 123 Asteroid streams 13
Accidents 41, 44, 46, 138-42, 148, 154, 157-59, Asthenia 228, 233
163-64, 166, 172, 190-91, 238, 285, 300, 326-27 Astronaut headaches 249-50
Accretion disks 73, 78 Astronautics 66, 84
Achondrite 30-31 Astronauts 19, 33, 42-43, 63-67, 85-86, 88-89, 135,
ADEOS-2 83, 85 145, 147, 150, 159, 163, 165-66, 168-69, 171,
Adonis 127, 130 174, 185, 190, 192-96, 198-200, 204-5, 207-13,
Advanced composition explorer 83, 90 218, 220-25, 229, 233, 235, 237-38, 243, 250,
Air traffic control 57-58, 178, 187 252-54, 256-57, 261-65, 267, 271-74, 276, 281-
Alliant techsystems 154, 158 82, 287-88, 293, 295, 297-98, 300-301, 305,
Altitude sickness 260, 262, 264, 267 309, 311
Alzhiemer’s Disease 249 spaceflight exposes 219
American astronauts 145, 237-38, 261, 287 space shuttle 265
Amino acids 30, 32 spacewalking 170
Ammonia servicer 40-41 Astronauts aboard 165-66, 171, 197
Amor group 13-14 Astronauts bones 204, 218
Ampula 249, 255 Astronauts experience 242, 261, 267
Anatomy, human 249, 254, 271, 273 Astronauts return 217, 268
Antielectron 105, 112 Astronomers 3, 5-6, 9, 25, 32, 36-37, 51, 62-63, 70,
Antioxidants 304, 307, 311 80, 98-99, 124, 129, 132, 317-18
Anxiety 228-29 Aten group 13-14
Apogee 51, 54 Atheriosclerosis 240, 245
Apollo group 5, 13 Atlantic Ocean 40-41, 53
Apollo XIII 134, 136, 164 Atmosphere 24, 35, 58, 63, 66-67, 85, 136, 143,
Apophis 3-4 324
Appetite 271, 273 planet’s 31, 69
Aquila supershell 116, 119 Atrophy
Ariannespace 154, 156 cardiac 240-41
Armadillo Aerospace 134-35, 154, 157, 165 muscular 281-82
Arrhythmia 240, 242 Automated transfer vehicle (ATV) 40, 42
Arteries 220, 240-41
cerebral 217, 220, 240, 246 B
Artificial gravity 213, 260, 267-68, 287 Bacteria 271, 276, 291, 293-94, 297, 299-300
Association 117-19 Ballistic missile 21, 24
Asteroid belt 3-4, 6, 15, 128-29 Beppo/SAX satellite 61
Asteroid Collision 184, 319 Beta-carotine 304, 307, 311
Asteroid families 3, 5 Bimodal echoes 13, 15
near-Earth 5 Biological clock 190-92, 197
Asteroid groups 3, 5, 26 Biomedicine 190, 203
Asteroid impact 4, 6, 320 Black Armadillo 163, 165
Asteroids Black hole masses 80
binary 8, 13-15 Black holes, intermediate 73-74, 80
increasing number of 15, 132 Blood pressure 242-43
known 4, 17, 19 Blood problems 243
lost 127, 129-31, 315, 326 Blood vessels 240, 246, 285
new 19, 131 Bloomberg News 190, 198
ordinary 97, 315 Bodies of Astronauts 311
smaller 3, 5, 9 Bone decay 203, 205-6

Dirk C. Gibson
All rights reserved-© 2015 Bentham Science Publishers
334 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers Dirk C. Gibson

Bone degradation 203, 206-7, 209, 211, 213, 327 Cognitive impairment 249-51
space-induced 207, 212 Collisions, cosmic 19, 178, 186
Bone demineralization 203, 206, 223 Collisions endanger spacecraft 184
Bone density 204-6 Combustion gasses 134
Bone loss 203, 205, 207-9, 211, 273 Comet groups 21, 26
Bone mass 204-6, 212-13 Comet impact 21, 23-24
Bone problems 211 Comet ISON 24-25
Bones, new 209-10 Comet orbits 317-18
Brain, human 67, 249, 251, 253 Comets, great 21-22
Brain damage 67, 251 Comets & Asteroids 320-21
Comet showers 21, 25
C Comet strike 24, 320
Caenorhabditis elegans 291 Comet tails 27
Canadian astronaut 268 Commercial Space Act 134-35
Canadian blackout of 1989 83, 91 Commercial space tourists 150
Canadian coast guard 40-41 Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) 291, 301
Canadian space agency 91, 206-7, 241, 254, 300- Communications 48, 52, 68, 89
301 Composition 14, 21, 27, 30-31, 96-97, 318
Canadian space society 178 Compton Gamma Ray Observatory Satellite 61-62
Canals, semicircular 255, 264 Confinement 228-30
Cancer Contaminate 291, 295
colon 304, 306 Contamination 146, 296-97, 301
space-induced 304, 311 Contamination by extraterrestrial exploration
Cancer risks 64, 305-6, 308 (CETEX) 291, 301
The capital hill club 51 Continuum, space-time 70, 306
Carbohydrates 271 Contractile proteins 281, 283
Carcinogenic 304-5, 308 Coronal mass ejections 61, 66, 83-84, 86, 136
Cardiac, diminished 240, 242 Cosmic radiation 84, 245, 252, 276, 291, 293, 304-
Cardiovascular 240-41, 277, 286, 327-28 5, 307, 326
Cassini space mission 141-43 galactic 241, 305
Cassiopeia 111, 113 Cosmic rays 61-64, 70, 108, 118, 120-21, 251, 304-
Cataractogenesis 217-18 7
Cataracts 217-18, 251, 304 galactic 63, 65, 67, 305, 326
Catastrophic engine failures 134-35 Countermeasures 24, 65, 150, 232, 234, 300, 309,
Causal mechanisms 217, 304, 306 311, 328
Cavities 117, 119 Crab Nebula 105, 110
large 117, 119 Craters 9, 30, 33, 316
CDC imaging 127 Crust, fusion 30-31
Center for Chronobiology 190-92 Cubewanos 95-96
Center for Defense Information 51, 57 Cygnus OB 116, 119
Central nervous system (CNS) 228-29, 232, 251, Cytokines 271, 274-75
304-5
Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory 95 D
Chandra X-Ray Observatory 111, 116, 119 Damage, muscle 281, 285
Charged particles 86, 92, 105, 111 Dangers 3, 15, 30, 35, 47-48, 67, 73, 78-79, 88-89,
Chelyabinsk 6, 34-36 101, 134, 136-37, 139, 141-42, 145-46, 148,
Chondrite 30-31, 38, 316 165, 167, 185, 208, 228, 230, 241, 275, 293,
Chronobiology 190-92, 200 298, 301, 308, 321, 324-26, 329-30
Circadian rhythms 190-92 Dartmouth College 228, 234
Clean rooms 291, 297-98 Debris 10, 40-43, 45-47, 56-57, 101-2, 109-11, 142-
Close quarters 196, 228-29, 231 43, 167-69, 184-85
Cluster 88, 116-17, 120 orbital 41, 43, 45
Cognitive development 249 Deceleration 134, 148-50, 232, 328
Subject Index Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers 335

Deconditioning 240-41, 281, 284 Edgewood-Kuiper Belt 95, 99-100


Deep elliptic survey 95, 99 Effects, psychological 233-34, 238
Defense support program (DSP) 314-15 Electricity, static 144-45
Dehydration 271-73 Electromagnetic radiation 73, 75, 80, 136
Delta rocket explosion 143 Electromagnetic spectrum 73, 79
Demineralization 203, 206, 223 Electrons 63, 65, 67, 70, 107, 109, 111-12, 306
Dendritic cells 271, 274-75 Endolymph 249, 255
Dexedrine 260, 262-63 Endothelium 240, 245
Diet log book 271 Energetic particles 65, 125
Digestive & immune systems 271, 273, 275, 277, Enriched light 190
328 Enyclopedia Britannica 105
Digital scale 271, 274 Equilibrium 112, 249, 253
Discovery channel 190, 193, 204-5, 211, 213, 218, Equipartition 116, 123
220-21, 223, 229-30, 253, 261, 265, 275, 282, Erratic orbits 95, 178
285, 304-5, 310-11 ESA Office of Space Debris 51
Disorientation 236, 249, 253-55, 257, 260, 264-65 Escape rockets 136, 154, 163-64
Disuse osteoporosis 203-4, 213 Escape velocity 73, 76
Diversity, spectral 95-96 Estimates 3, 7, 18-19, 21, 45-46, 76, 98-99, 101,
Dramamine 260, 262 108, 181-82, 188, 250, 265-66, 316
Dust, cosmic 28, 32 European space agency 16, 26, 122, 146, 198, 236,
305
E Event horizon 73, 76-78
Earth 3-4, 6-10, 13-16, 18-19, 21-22, 24, 27-28, 30, Examples of earth-crossing asteroids 8
32-34, 36-37, 40-41, 46, 48, 51-57, 61-64, 66- Experience SAS 265-66
70, 73, 76-78, 83-86, 88-92, 101, 105, 107, 110, Explosions 36, 57, 88, 105-7, 110, 116, 118, 121,
128-31, 135, 141-43, 149, 157, 159, 164-65, 135, 142, 165-66, 172, 186, 315
167-68, 173, 178-79, 183, 186, 190-96, 198, natural space object 36
200, 203-4, 207-8, 211-12, 217, 230, 232, 234,
237-38, 242, 253-54, 256, 268, 275, 281, 287- F
88, 291-94, 296-301, 308-10, 314-21, 326, 328- Fatalities 135-36, 154, 163, 319, 321
29 Faye’s Comet 127, 129
planet 3, 21, 37, 314, 324, 326, 330 Fearsome objects 73, 75
space streaming past 92 Federal space agency (FSA) 163, 174
space travelers orbiting 89 Fermi large area telescope 116, 118, 120
Earth and space science missions 85 Filaments 116, 122
Earth asteroid tracking program 18 Fireball 31, 35, 38, 316-17
Earth asteroid tracking team 13, 15 Flatulence 271-72
Earth-based simulations of microgravity conditions Flights 48, 136, 138, 155, 157-58, 160, 164, 166,
291 169, 187-88, 193, 212, 221, 224, 229, 241, 243,
Earth-crossing asteroids 3, 7-8, 319 252, 256, 261, 282, 284, 288, 297, 321
dangerous 8 long-duration 204, 283-84
largest 8 Fluids 221, 243, 253-55, 264, 272, 274
Earth-crossing orbits 8, 128-29 Fluid shift 220-21, 224, 241, 243, 250
Earth Environment 91, 179 Folic acid 217, 220
immediate 179, 325-26 Free radicals 219, 307-8
Earth object coordination center 13 Fungi 271, 276, 293-94, 299
Earth object program 13, 16, 35, 315
Earth Orbit 44, 89, 326 G
Earth-orbiting satellites 182 Galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) 63, 65, 67, 305, 310,
Earth-orbiting station 180 326
Earth space 145, 181 Galaxies 63, 73-76, 80, 83, 89, 108, 110-11, 117,
Earth space environment 326 120-21, 125, 129, 178-79, 183-86
Earth time 70, 306
336 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers Dirk C. Gibson

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) 62-63, 69, 75, 108 Information age 51-52, 182
Gamma ray fireballs 105, 112 infra red astronomical satellite (IRAS) 317
Gamma rays 61-63, 69, 79, 87, 112-13, 118, 120, Insomnia 190, 195, 229
124, 304-6, 314, 319, 321 Institute for biomedical research 190
Gemini space mission 260 Insurance of space rockets launch 147
Genome 291-92, 300 Insurance of space rocket techniques 147
Geomagnetic storms 83-85, 88, 91-92 International civil aviation authority 51
Geosynchronous orbit 51, 53-55, 178, 182, 315 International space station (ISS) 40-42, 57, 85, 89,
Geosynchronous zone 51 92, 147, 159-60, 165-71, 173, 180, 184, 194-95,
Giant molecular cloud 127, 129 197, 200, 205, 207, 212, 218, 222, 224, 231,
Giant planets 100-101, 128 292, 295, 299, 309-10
GLAST burst monitor (GBM) 61-62 International telecommunications union (ITU) 58
Goddard Space Flight Center 53, 83 Interstellar clouds 30
Gravitational loading 281, 286 Interstellar grains 21-22
Gravitational pull 75, 128 Interstellar medium 117, 119, 121-22, 125
Gyroscopes 260, 267 Intracranial hypertension 217, 221, 240, 246
Irradiated mantle 95, 97
H J
Hard upper torso (HUT) 147
Jodrell Bank Observatory 178
Headaches 241, 250, 263-65, 267
Health consequences 314, 327-29
Health consequences of space 324 K
Heart, human 240 Keck telescope 61-62
Herzburg Institute of Astrophysics 13-14 Kennedy Space Center 154-55, 297
Hirayama family 178 Kepler’s star 105, 110
Hole, mini-black 73-74, 80 Kessler syndrome 178, 185, 326
Hormonal psychology 240 Kirkwood 205, 209, 211, 213
Hubble space telescope 40, 43, 62, 111 Kitts Peak Observatory 95
Huffington post 95, 97 Kuiper Belt 3-5, 21, 23, 95-97, 102, 128
Human beings 146, 192, 203, 260, 274, 276, 295,
298, 306, 328 L
Human body 137, 149-50, 205, 209-10, 240-42, Large Magellanic Cloud 105, 110, 124
271, 277, 281, 311, 328 Las Companas Observatory 105, 110
Human errors 136, 139-40 Late Heavy Bombardment 178, 186
Human space flight 140, 205 Launch accident 157-58
Hydrogen 21-22, 106, 155, 163, 165, 186, 200, 315 Launchpad 154-56
Hypernova 61-62 Lead time 21, 24
Hypertension 240, 242-43 Life support systems 134-35
Hypothermia 217, 219 Ligament 281, 284
Hypoxia 217, 219 Light curve 105-6
HZE nuclei 271, 276, 304, 307, 310, 326 Light years 110-11, 113, 119
Light-years 23, 62-63, 117-18, 120, 129
I Limestone 30, 34
Iceteroids 3, 5, 21, 23 Linear 13, 18, 46-47, 66, 106, 149, 178, 217, 219,
254-55, 283, 328
Immune system 271, 274-76, 293
Location 19, 24, 51, 54, 62, 127, 178, 181, 252-53
altered 271, 274-75
Long-term spaceflight 244
depressed 271, 274
Loss, weight 273-74, 287
human 271, 274-76
Loughlin 74, 76-77, 108
Immunology 271 Low Earth orbit 43, 54, 57, 66
Individual variables 260, 262-63, 266
Low-Earth orbit 54, 185
Infections 271, 274, 276, 295-96, 301 Lowell Observatory 18, 127, 132
In-flight 235 Lower Earth Orbit 53
Subject Index Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers 337

Luminosity 105, 107 manned 65, 89, 294


Mission Control 42, 164, 166, 168-70, 174, 190,
M 193, 195, 200, 237
Mojave Spaceport 134, 148, 158
Macrophage 271, 274-75
Monocyte 271, 274-75
Magellanic Cloud 105, 110, 116, 119, 124
Monogem Ring 116, 119
Magnesium 203, 210
Monopropellant 163, 165
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 221
Moonlight 190, 197
Malaise 260, 264-65, 267
Motion sickness 196-97, 260-63
Man-made objects 46, 52-53, 57
Muscle atrophy 282
Mars exploration rover mission 190, 193
Muscle fibers 284-85
Mars Mission 286, 304, 309
Muscle loss 234, 282-84, 287
Massive stars 79, 105-6, 117, 119
Max-Planck-ESA Telescope 116, 119 Muscle mass 281, 283, 285, 287
Mechanical/thermodynamic 134 Muscles, human 281
Medications 191, 261, 264, 267, 277 Muscle tone 283
Melatonin 190, 196-97, 199 Muscle type 281, 284
Mental health 228-30, 233, 237 Muscle volume 284
Mental health issues 228, 232
Mercury space mission 260 N
Meteorite origins 32 NASA Ames Flight Research Center 245-46
Meteorites, stony 30-31 NASA Ames Research Center 252, 262
Meteorite strikes 30, 34-35, 316-17 NASA Astronaut Office 222
Meteor strikes 32, 36-37, 317, 326 NASA/FEMA ASTEROID SIMULATION 6
Meteostats 51-52 NASA Fermi Large Area Telescope 118, 120
Microbes 291-301, 328 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center 112
space environment changes 292
NASA Johnson Space Center 167, 219
Microgravity 194, 196, 205, 207-9, 213, 217, 221-
NASA Mission Control 155, 171
22, 224-25, 240-41, 243, 245-46, 250-53, 256,
NASA National Space Weather Program 91
261, 267, 272, 275, 277, 282, 286, 291, 298-99,
327-28 NASA online document 80
effects of 209, 219-20, 284, 299 NASA Orbital Debris Program 43, 47
Microgravity environment 203, 242, 244-45, 256, NASA scientists 27, 37, 84, 193, 300
282-83 NASA’s Earth-observing satellites orbit 184
Microgravity space environment 277, 292 NASA Sea Winds Instrument 83
Microgravity space milieu 284 NASA spacecraft 183
Microhemorraghes 240, 244 NASA space debris authority 168
Micrometeorite 26, 30, 147, 166 NASA spaceflights 233
Microorganisms 271, 276, 291-93, 295-99, 301 NASA space junk 56
Microscopic voids 21-22 NASA space object 55
Middle earth orbits 53 NASA Space Operations chief 42
Military satellites 53, 87, 89, 169 NASA space probe Dawn 9
Milky Way 4, 73, 75-77, 83, 92, 108, 119-20, 183, NASA space sciences group 291, 300
185-86 NASA space station program manager 166
Million miles 13-14, 69, 86, 130, 309, 315, 318 NASA space vision activity 225
Milli sieverts 68-69 NASA spacewalk 146
Minor Planet Center 17, 131, 316 NASA spitzer space telescope 116
Minor planets 3, 8, 17, 40, 96, 102, 128 NASA study of space vision maladies 224
Mirelle, Mount Wilson Observatory 127 National Meteorite Collection 30
Mir space station 55, 295 National space biomedical research institute
Mishap Investigation Board 178, 183 (NSBRI) 192, 241, 252-54, 261, 282-83, 285,
Missiles and Space Travel 51, 54 287, 309
Mission 45, 66, 138, 146-47, 164, 167, 170-71, 198, National space weather program (NSWP) 83, 91
212, 225, 231, 233-34, 237, 251, 254, 265-67, Nausea 257, 260-61, 263-67, 305
281, 287, 300, 304, 309, 320 Naval Research Institute 21
338 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers Dirk C. Gibson

Near-Earth asteroids 13-14, 16 Phenergan 260, 264


categorize 14 Photons 61
Near-Earth asteroid size 14 Planetesimals 30
Near-Earth Objects 13, 18-19 Plasma 22, 86, 116, 123, 240, 243-44
Near-Earth space environment 40, 326 Plasma volume 240, 244
NEAs, increasing number of 13 Plasma waves 116, 123
NEA STREAMS 13-14 Postural hypertension 240, 243
NEO Coordination Center 3, 16 Problems
Neptune 67, 77, 95-97, 100-101, 103, 128 digestive 271-72
Neural circuits 249, 253 eye 217, 222-23, 225
Neurodegeneration 249, 253 muscle 281-82, 286
Neurons 64, 251, 253 psychological 230, 235, 237
Neurovestibular 249, 252, 257, 261 Promethezine hydrochloride 260
Neutrinos 105, 107-8 Promethszyne 260
Neutron stars 73-74, 105-6, 109 Propellant 134, 142, 148, 163, 165
New centaur 95, 102 Property damage 24, 36, 143
New Scientist 184, 218, 224-25 Property Rights Convention 51, 54, 58
Northrup-Grumman 134-35 Proteins 203, 210, 219, 283, 293, 307
Nuclei 22, 24, 26-27, 276, 310 Protons 63, 70, 107, 109, 121, 165, 305
Psychiatric disorders 228, 237
O Psychosis 228-29
O’Hare International Airport of low Earth orbit 57
Olympia 127-28 Q
Online source 7, 53, 98, 112, 118, 139, 145, 193-95, Quantification of earth-crossing asteroids 7
200, 206, 208, 212, 242, 257, 265, 305 Quantitative risk estimates of space dangers 314-15,
Oppositional force 281, 286 317, 319, 321
Orbital period 97-98, 130 Quantum 61
Orbital shift 3, 6
Orbiting, natural space object 51 R
Orbiting satellites 4, 86 Radars 47, 83, 90
Orbits Radarsat satellites 178
decayed 83 Radiation 61-62, 65-69, 73, 75, 78, 85-86, 89, 105,
geosynch 55, 182 108-9, 119-20, 135, 138, 143, 208, 219, 223,
planet-crossing 95, 100 232, 234, 246, 251, 271, 274, 276, 293-94, 300,
random 21, 23, 318 304-8, 310-11, 325-26, 329
reliable 130-31 bursts of 66
Orthostatic response 240, 242 high-energy 63, 305
impaired 240, 242 high levels of 304
Osteoporosis 203-4 ionizing 64, 68, 251
Outer planets 28, 95, 99-100 space-based 304
massive 100 Radiation belts 67
Oxidative stress 217, 219 Radiation dangers 61
Radiation exposure 66-67, 69, 278, 305
P Radiation levels 165, 251, 293, 308
Pair-instability radioactive isotopes 105 Radiation risk 61, 67
Palomar Observatory Asteroid Survey 13 Rand Corporation 134
Papilledema 217, 222 Red blood cells 240, 243-44, 285
Particles, alpha 61, 63, 65 Registration Convention 51, 54, 58
Particulate matter 21 Risk analysis 30, 35
Passive shielding 61 Risks
Perturbation 69, 127, 129, 131, 326 growing 180, 206
Pharmaceuticals 271, 277-78, 328 increased 211-12, 242
Subject Index Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers 339

possible 142 Small satellites 158


relative 319 Sodium T-Lymphocyte 271
substantial 40 Solar activity 84, 293
Rocket engines 134, 136, 159 Solar energetic particles (SEPs) 65, 67
Rocket risks 134, 138, 324, 327, 329 Solar flares 61, 63-64, 66, 68-69, 83, 86-88, 90,
Rockets 23, 51, 54, 92, 134, 136-38, 140, 142-44, 136, 306
154, 156-60, 163, 291, 297, 318-19, 321, 327 Solar particles 61, 65, 91-92, 326
Rocket science 135, 137, 154 Solar storms 66, 83-85, 87, 89-91
Rocket transportation 134, 136, 142, 154, 156, 327 Solar system 13-14, 17, 19, 23, 28, 61, 63, 65, 67,
ROSAT satellite 51, 55 83, 92, 96, 98-102, 128
Rs-space-comets-nasa-video 103 inner 25, 95, 100, 102, 128-30
Russian radio 240, 244 Solar wind 22, 84, 86, 90-92, 118
Russian satellite 167 Solar wing 163, 166
Russian space agency 173, 198, 281-82 Sonic boom 33, 37, 73, 79, 86, 111
Russian space program 187, 235, 294 Sophron Foundation 204, 260, 262
Russian space satellite 184 Space, vacuum of 145-46
Russian space station Mir 204, 206 Space accident 144, 164, 183
Space activity 58, 163
S Space adaptation syndrome (SAS) 256, 260-61,
Sagittarius a star 73, 75 263-68, 328
Salyut 7 281, 283 Space agencies 16, 146, 170, 282
Salyut IV 228 Space assets 40-41, 180
Sandstone 30, 34 Space authorities 77, 207
SAS symptoms 265, 267 Space collision 181, 183
Satellite Collisions 46, 57, 183, 185 Space-comets-nasa-video 103
Satellites 40, 42, 44, 46-47, 51-55, 57, 68, 83, 87, Space commercialization 277
89, 155, 158-59, 168, 178-79, 181-85, 225, 315, Spacecraft 10, 27, 40, 43-44, 47, 55-56, 61, 65, 68,
317, 325-26, 329 89, 92, 135-36, 139, 141, 147-48, 164-66, 169,
artificial 51-52 171-73, 184-85, 193, 208, 231, 295, 297-98,
commercial 47, 53, 57, 144, 167, 180, 182-83 307, 311, 321, 326-27
dead 44-45 comet-chasing 26
Satellites Crash to Earth 183 Spacecraft in-orbit operation 147
Saturn 67, 95, 97, 101 Spacecraft orbiting 196
Scaled Composites 134, 148, 154, 158 Space danger risks 319, 321
Scattered-disk objects 95, 98-100 Space dangers 13, 15, 90, 137, 139, 314-15, 317,
Schmidt telescope 127, 132 319, 321, 324-26, 329
Science Channel 203-4, 210, 212, 283, 287 analysis of 83, 324
Science Clarified 194, 196 intrinsic 314, 324-25
Scopalomine 260 natural 329
Seconds 54, 63, 145, 155-58, 163, 317 Space debris
Sedentary 198, 204, 241, 281, 287 generation of 43, 46
Sensation 228-29, 250, 255-56, 262 incidence of 45, 181
Sensory deprivation 228, 230 man-made 41, 326
Separation 228, 230-31 orbital 169
Serum plasma 240 Space debris collisions 47
Shielding 65, 208, 307, 310 Space debris danger 41
Shields 33, 90, 310-11 Space debris incident 170
Shock waves 34, 36, 73, 79, 105-6, 111, 116-17, Space debris items 44, 181
123-24 Space debris poses 179-80
Shuttle 43, 89, 139, 172, 200 Space debris problem 179
Similarity 203, 217, 221-22, 260, 262, 264, 267 Space debris risks 185
Skylab astronauts 205, 207, 256, 273 Space development, commercial 148, 180, 330
Sleeping pills 198-99 Space diets 208, 271-72
340 Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers Dirk C. Gibson

Space effects 241, 245, 299 Space objects 7-8, 13-14, 24, 27, 30-31, 33-35, 37-
Space entities 73, 116 38, 40, 44, 47-48, 54, 76-78, 99, 105, 127, 130-
Space environment 47, 92, 137, 149, 192, 198, 203, 31, 169, 184, 314, 317-20, 326
205, 211, 213, 217, 219-21, 228-29, 231, 233- dangerous 24, 320
34, 240, 242-46, 249-54, 257, 260, 267, 271-72, man-made 183, 325
274-75, 281-88, 291-93, 295, 298-99, 304, 308, most 14, 74
310, 314, 324, 326-29 natural 179, 183, 326
immediate Earth 178 naturally-occurring solid orbital 30
micro-gravity 272, 275 new Earth-crossing 128
outer 205, 232, 304, 327 reorbited 326
radiation-laden 251 Space operations 236
Space environment effects 249, 291 Space osteoporosis 203-4
Space experience 231, 260 Space probes 26, 140
Space exploration 136, 309 Space program 234, 237, 297
Spacefarer diet 271, 273 Space psychology 228-29, 236
Spacefarer radiation exposure 310 Space radiation 65, 245, 253, 300, 304-6, 308, 311
Spacefarers 3, 13, 40, 47, 61, 65-66, 69, 73, 77-78, 84, effects of 218, 276
134, 147, 149, 178-80, 190-93, 195, 197, 199, 203, Space research 300-301
205-6, 210-11, 217-19, 221-22, 225, 228-31, 234- Space rockets launch 147
36, 250-53, 256-57, 260-61, 263-66, 268, 271-74, Space rocket techniques 147-48
276, 281-82, 285, 287-88, 291, 293, 295, 304-5, Space rocks 7, 37
308-9, 311, 314, 319-21, 324-29 Space satellites 178
most 261, 328 Space scientists 118, 211, 284
short-term 222-23 Spaceships 40, 137, 180, 267, 294
Spacefarer vision problems 217, 222-23 Space Shuttle Atlantis 155, 169
Space flight 135, 197, 205, 218, 224, 229, 237, 242, Space shuttle Columbia 164, 172
253, 276, 300, 328 Space shuttle Discovery 155, 224
Spaceflight 57, 137, 148-49, 154-55, 163-64, 197, Space shuttle program 41, 139
203, 208, 211-12, 229, 232-33, 236, 242-43, Space shuttles 136, 138, 144, 155, 174, 193-94,
265, 273, 276, 284, 286-87, 292, 300, 304, 327 266, 292
extended 218, 282 Space sickness 256-57, 260-65, 267
interplanetary 308 Space sleep deprivation 195, 198-99
long-duration 229, 232, 278, 294 Space sleep issues 196
Space flight, private human 137 Space sleeplessness 195
Spaceflight environments 230, 235 Space sleep problems 197
Spaceflight experience 199, 229, 264 Space sojourners 192, 244
Spaceflight mission 191 Space station 53, 137, 165-66, 168-70, 172, 183,
Spaceguard 17-18 225, 231, 266-67, 294, 298, 320
Spaceguard Concept 17 Space station astronauts 42
Spaceguard Foundation 13 Spacesuits 145-47, 170, 231
Spaceguard Goal 17-18 Space Surveillance Network 40, 43-44, 46
Spaceguard Participants 17-18 Space tourism 47, 135, 137, 141, 277
Spaceguard Problems 17-18 commercial 137, 140, 188
Space-induced cardiac problems 243 Space tourism industry, commercial 140, 187
Space Institute 45 Space tourist dennis tito 138, 319
Space tourists 192, 231
Space machines 46, 108
The Space Tourist’s Handbook 260
Space Medicine 200
Space transportation 163, 180
Space mental health issues 229, 231, 233-34
Space Transportation Association and NASA 142
Space microbes 291 Space Transportation Company (STC) 154, 157
outer 301 Space Transportation Corporation 154
Space missions 140, 192-93, 195, 199, 222, 224, Space Travel 278
256, 273, 278, 301 Space travelers 30, 33, 61, 68, 191, 194, 196-97,
Space motion sickness 254, 256-57, 261-64 229, 244, 266
Subject Index Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Space Dangers 341

Space trips 229, 278 Termination shock 116, 122, 124


Space vehicles 232, 297 Terrible spaceflight accidents, most 156
long NASA 320 Texas Space Grant Consortium 138-39
Space vision issues 217, 225 Thermal radiation 134, 142
Space vision maladies 221, 224 Thermodynamic 134
Space vision problems 219, 224-25 Tissues, connective 281, 284
Spacewalk 145, 160, 170-71, 238, 266, 288 Toxic vapor hazard 134, 142
Spacewatch Program 13 Transportation 134-35, 137-38, 147, 154, 318, 327
Space weather programs 83, 91 Treadmills 212-13
Space weather radar 83, 90 Type II supernovas 106
Space weather radar systems 90
Space weather shield 83, 89 U
Spaghettification 73, 77-78 UAB News 240
Stars, exploding 107, 110, 307 Ultramassive 73, 80
Stellar winds 117-19 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) 53
Stony-iron meteorites 30 U.S. Space Surveillance Network 40, 43-44, 46
Stress, metabolic 281, 285-86
Strike, meteoroid 30
Strike Earth 10, 36 V
Subcommittee on Space and Astronautics 314 Vestibular 203, 209, 246, 249, 254-57, 328
Supermassive 63, 73-76, 80 Vestibular Problems 257
Supernovae 63, 69, 105-7, 117, 119 Vestibular system 209, 249, 254-57
Supernova explosions 107, 109, 113, 117-19 Virgin Galactic 134, 187-88
multiple 117 Virtual space station (VSS) 228, 236
Supernova remnants 105, 111, 118 Vision changes 217, 220, 222
Supernovas Vision degradation 217-19, 222-24, 287
new 111 space-induced 220, 222
pair-instability 105, 112 Vitamin 203, 208, 210, 311
Supernova subtypes 105-6
Supplies 15, 92, 102, 135, 169-70, 180-81, 196 W
Washington post 36-37, 46-47, 52, 55, 169
T White blood cells 240, 245, 274, 285
Take-off, failed 154-56 Wolf-Rayet stage 116, 123
Telemedicine 51-52
Tendinitis 281, 285