4. The Van Allen belts...Solar particle radiation...Cosmic rays...
There’s a terrifying amount of radiation in space just aching to zap anyone who comes close to touching it. Here are three:
Van Allen belts: These are giant clouds of high-energy particles trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field, and this was the first time any humans ever passed through the clouds’ space.
The sun: Our glorious, star-away-from-home blasts our solar system with a “solar wind” of charged particles which will occasionally send out large spikes in activity that pose serious threats to space travelers.
Cosmic rays: Of unknown origins, these rays emit deadly levels of carcinogens onto (and into) any living organism that comes into its path. Yes, this includes humans.
So how did the Apollo boys stay safe, all things considered? Basically, they hauled ass through the Van Allen belt, and the exposure was so short and they were so well insulated, they avoided significant damage. For solar wind, NASA monitored the weather constantly, and planned to abort the mission if a flare occurred. The radiation? Luckily, since the trip was so short (is there ever really a “short” trip to space?), the radioactive rays didn’t have time to cause any physical harm to the astronauts.
A year ago, research by Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Co. confirmed the long-held suspicion that plastics are among the most effective of materials in protecting astronauts from deep-space radiation. Yay plastics!