Space-based research is not without its dangers
The absence of gravity might be a supportable – even sought-after – condition for research projects and experiments conducted in space, but radiation is quite another matter. In the vacuum of space, there is no atmosphere to protect astronauts against exposure to cosmic and solar radiation. The sun continually emits huge quantities of hot gases, at a temperature reaching many thousand degrees Celsius, which race through the universe at a velocity of several million kilometres per hour. This solar wind consists principally of protons and electrons. Its strength is variable and can be considerably increased by major eruptions on the surface of the sun. The protons released by these violent eruptions are propagated through space with immense energy, and at a velocity approaching the speed of light, enabling them to reach our planet within minutes. The only things that shield Earth against bombardment by these particles are its protective atmosphere and the magnetosphere.
Consequently, astronauts who leave the safety of their spacecraft are imperatively required to wear special protective clothing. Modern spacesuits allow astronauts to spend several hours cut off from the central life-support systems of a space station or space shuttle. The suits have their own built-in life-support system, which creates a pressurised atmosphere inside the suit, supplies the astronaut with oxygen and removes exhaled carbon dioxide. The temperature inside the suit is regulated to provide protection against the extreme variations of temperature in space, which can range from +100°C in direct sunlight to -100°C in the shade cast by a celestial body passing in front of the sun.
A special dossier full of informative articles has been created about 50 years of manned spaceflight
Go back to the Living in Space Dossier: Human beings beyond the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere