I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Those pesky particles

I became a big fan of science fiction at the age of 14. I have read all the greats of the past - Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and even the pure fantasy of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I became an addict of Frank Herbert's Dune series. Of course for much of it to be anything but fantasy everything we think we know about space and time must be wrong. But there is a problem that even threatens trips to the Moon and Mars - high energy particles from the sun.
What's keeping us from Mars? Space rays, say experts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cosmic rays are so dangerous and so poorly understood that people are unlikely to get to Mars or even back to the moon until better ways are found to protect astronauts, experts said on Monday.

And NASA is not properly funding the right experiments to find out how, the National Research Council committee said.

"One of the big issues is they have really cut funding for biology issues," retired space shuttle astronaut James van Hoften, who chaired the committee, said in a telephone interview.

"It is tough on them when they don't have any new money coming in. They are using old data," he added -- including research done on survivors of the nuclear bombings of Japan during World War Two.

"Given today's knowledge and today's understanding of radiation protection, to put someone out in that type of environment would violate the current requirements that NASA has."

The committee of experts agreed that NASA'S existing radiation safety standards can protect astronauts and they urged the U.S. space agency to keep them in place.

The Earth's bulk, atmosphere and magnetic field protect life from the solar radiation and the cosmic rays that travel through space. Astronauts have just a thin layer of shielding.
A few science fiction writers like physicist Charles Sheffield have acknowledged the problem but simply assumed an answer had been found. We are protected from these high energy particles by the Earth's magnetic field. In his Mars Trilogy Kim Stanely Robinson writes about the terra forming of Mars but leaves out one thing that would make such a project impossible - the inability to create a magnetic field in a dead planet. Our understanding of space and time today would indicate we can't go too far and it would appear there are no option close at hand. A good reason to take care of Mother Earth.