Sunday, 5 June 2005

Fly Me To the Moon

...and let me play amongst the stars...

From the author of Cumudgeons's Corner, a Brief History of Lunar Exploration.
Many people ask, because of its perceived cost, why explore the Moon? Many scientists believe that the Moon contains many of the secrets of the early solar system and that a geological and geophysical study of that world would yield many of those secrets. Other scientists believe that the far side of the Moon, shielded from the Earth, would be a perfect place for a radio and an optical observatory to explore the universe.

The official rationale for returning to the Moon in the current Vision for Space Exploration, proposed by President Bush, is that it would serve as a dress rehearsal for expeditions to Mars. Technologies and techniques that would be used to explore the Red Planet could be tested out on the Moon, just three days journey away from Earth.

One of the more compelling reasons for returning to the Moon is that it may be a source of limitless energy. Over billions of years, solar winds have deposited an isotope called Helium 3 on the lunar surface. The reason that Helium 3 is important is that, when fusion reactors become commercially practicable, it can be used as fuel with little or no radioactive byproducts
There's more than one reason.

But we may have to be a little bit careful out there. From Space Daily :
The solar flare, which occurred at 2 a.m. EST, tripped radiation monitors all over the planet and scrambled detectors on spacecraft. The shower of energetic protons came minutes after the first sign of the flare.

This flare was an extreme example of the type of radiation storm that arrives too quickly to warn interplanetary astronauts.

"This flare produced the largest solar radiation signal on the ground in nearly 50 years," said Dr. Richard Mewaldt of the California Institute of Technology. He is a co-investigator on NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft.

"But we were really surprised when we saw how fast the particles reached their peak intensity and arrived at Earth."

Normally it takes two or more hours for a dangerous proton shower to reach maximum intensity at Earth after a solar flare. The particles from the January 20 flare peaked about 15 minutes after the first sign.

"That's important because it's too fast to respond with much warning to astronauts or spacecraft that might be outside Earth's protective magnetosphere," Mewaldt said.

"In addition to monitoring the sun, we need to develop the ability to predict flares in advance if we are going to send humans to explore our solar system."
15 minutes to peak means very little time for interplanetary astronauts to get into a shelter. This means trouble.

Hat Tip yet again to reader Shaun

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