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Radiation: Can't Live Without It!
Astronauts and equipment are affected by solar radiation, solar wind, and cosmic rays The third of four Web Seminars on the topic of Lunar Exploration was held on Tuesday, November 21, 2006, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. The presenter was Dr. Anuradha Koratkar, Associate Research Scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology (GEST) Center. The presentation focused on radiation in space and how it may affect equipment and humans involved in lunar exploration in the next decade. One of the goals of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, scheduled for launch in 2008, is to measure the solar radiation at the surface of the Moon.

Twenty-eight (28) participants were present in addition to the presenter and the NSTA staff. Participating educators represented the states of Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington.

The Sun emits radiation at different wavelengths In this presentation educators learned about electromagnetic radiation and how it can affect people and equipment in the planned exploration of the Moon in the next decade. Electromagnetic radiation is produced by the motion of electrically charged particles. Living as we do in the atmosphere of the Sun, the radiation environment in space includes both solar electromagnetic radiation and high energy charged particles: the solar wind and cosmic rays. Humans and equipment in space can be affected by this solar electromagnetic radiation. Low dosage of radiation on humans is of no negative consequence. However, high radiation dosage could lead to cell damage, causing cancer and potentially death. Solar electromagnetic radiation can affect equipment negatively because highly energetic particles can penetrate electronic components and cause malfunctions. The only solution known for the radiation problem is shielding. Better materials will be engineered to support long term lunar missions in the next decade. Solar weather forecasting will continue so that astronauts can be warned when it is no safe to be outside and unprotected.

The CRATER telescope, one of the instruments on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, will measure the radiation levels at the surface of the Moon. All participants received a copy of NSTA's SciGuide on NASA Exploration: The Moon, Mars & Beyond, grades 5-8.

Here are some comments provided by the participants at the end of the Web Seminar:

  • "I am currently writing a planetary science curriculum that will look at exploration of the Moon and Mars and radiation will be one of the topics covered."
  • "The information was extremely helpful for use with our astronomy unit. The pictures, charts, and graphs were great!"
  • "This will support my teaching as soon as Tuesday of next week. I'm currently teaching this and now I have a better understanding so I can help create understanding and not misconceptions."
  • "It is valuable to gain insight into the direction of lunar exploration and to learn what scientists have learned about the effects of radiation on astronauts and equipment to become further prepared in training teachers in space science."

Thanks to the participants and the presenter for the learning opportunity, the interactions, and a job well done!


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Underwritten in part by NASA