Salute Our Space Heroes


Traveling in outer space sounds fun. Being an astronaut seems to be an exciting career. Until the gringa is reminded about space radiation. Those heavy duty marshmallow looking suits astronauts wear are not just to keep them warm, properly pressurized and surrounded by oxygen. They also protect against dangerous space radiation. But is it enough? Are spacecrafts and the International Space Station adequately protected or are our astronauts slowly being radiated to death?

Radiation is an invisible energy form of high-speed particles and electromagnetics. It surrounds humans in everyday artificial light, sunlight, and electronics that produce radio-, television-, and micro- waves. Radiation comes in two forms:

  • Ionized: This is the worst in the form of gamma rays, protons and neutrons. Exposure to ionized radiation results in exposed atoms becoming unstable by an energy powerful enough to remove electrons from their orbit around the atom’s nucleus.
  • Non-ionized: Not powerful enough to destabilize atoms, this is the kind of common radiation produced by microwaves, radio waves and light.

The radiation in space is, unfortunately, comprised of ionized radiation. There are three things that typically create dangerous space radiation:

  • Trapped radiation: The Earth’s core creates a magnetic field that surrounds our planet up to several thousand kilometers from our planet’s surface. Solar wind carries charged particles that slam into our magnetic shield. Some particles manage to pass through. Those that don’t create a shockwave that deflects from Earth’s magnetic field. This creates layers of cavities called the “magnetosphere” that act as shock absorbers to protect Earth further from charged particle bombardment. But some particles get trapped in these cavities and they become radioactive belts surrounding Earth. Astronauts have to pass through these dangerous belts before they reach deeper space.
  • Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR): Outside our solar system ionized atoms traveling at almost light speed pass through space matter, including humans and man-made objects unless they are properly shielded.
  • Solar Particle Events (SPE): Sometimes the Sun flares and ejects copious amounts of highly charged radioactive particles into space. These particles travel so fast they are capable of reaching Earth within ten minutes of a solar or coronal flare event. These are dramatic happenings that temporarily drastically increase radiation exposure.

Astronauts traveling through space radiation or living in the ISS have to be protected from space radiation. Radiation exposure causes damage to human cells. There is a scientific formula used to calculate how much radiation exposure an astronaut can expect when working on the ISS. It’s a bit too complicated for the gringa to understand. These calculations are the reason ISS missions have a maximum six month cycle and spacewalks are limited. Exposure is increased during a spacewalk to perform repairs and maintenance.

Shielding is preferred to be constructed of materials like polyethylene because it has a high hydrogen content. This kind of material is more effective than metals at reducing the ability of particles to pass through and enter the modules. Astronauts also wear monitors called “dosimeters” that constantly measure the level of radiation damage to the chromosomes in their blood cells.

Every single astronaut is a hero. No matter what the duration of their mission. No matter what the nature of their mission. No matter what it is they did, whether it seemed glamorous or insignificant, these men and women are heroes of science. They are risking their lives every moment they are off the surface of the Earth. Even if they return safely, they have still sacrificed much. From musculo-skeletal issues to organ damage and higher cancer risks, every single astronaut will experience the effects of radiation exposure for a lifetime despite the measures taken to protect them. If you ever meet an astronaut thank them for their invaluable sacrifice and service performing critical scientific endeavors that are helping us understand our origins, learn about climate change conditions and create solutions to save our homeworld.

Sources:

jsc.nasa.gov

spaceflight.nasa.gov

Image source:  antarcticglaciers.org

 

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The Big Mac Boot


The gringa’s oldest son is doing her proud. Like many millenials, my son has a strong desire to make the world a better place. He has aspirations of doing this by becoming a community organizer and rallying people around important issues of social justice, working together to bring about public awareness and positive change. He has taken his first steps toward achieving his goal by volunteering with a local organization and participated in a press conference.

As a proud and supportive parent, and a bit of a rabble-rouser myself, I simply had to devote a post sharing the good work this organization is doing. Please see their press release below. Links are provided to other media coverage or research documents for your own browsing pleasure!

MEDIA RELEASE

Doctors, dieticians, parents call on Texas Children’s, Ben Taub hospitals to give McDonald’s the boot

Coalition announces campaign to eliminate junk food marketing in hospitals

HOUSTON –Today, as part of coordinated actions in five cities nationwide, doctors from the Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, and Texas Children’s Hospital joined more than 35 health professionals and community organizations to demand that McDonald’s and other junk food corporations end all marketing inside Texas Children’s and Ben Taub hospitals. The coalition is calling on the CEOs of Texas Children’s Hospital and Harris Health System, which oversees Ben Taub Hospital, to close on-site McDonald’s stores, citing health concerns.

The call comes on the heels of Cleveland Clinic’s decision in August and Allina Health/Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s decision in December to sever ties with the burger giant, due to concerns for their patients’ health. It also amplifies the voices of more than 3,000 health professionals and advocacy organizations like Corporate Accountability International who have called on McDonald’s to stop marketing to kids and 12,000 physicians of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine who have urged hospitals, including Texas Children’s Hospital, to go “fast-food-free.” Increasingly, hospital administrators are equating McDonald’s in hospitals to the tobacco industry’s tactic of selling cigarettes in hospital gift shops decades ago.

“In the midst of an epidemic of diet-related diseases, it makes no sense for kids to be treated on one floor of Ben Taub and Texas Children’s and see a McDonald’s on another—it sends the wrong message,” said Rosalia Guerrero, president of Healthcare for All Texas.

Texas Children’s and Ben Taub hospitals would become the twelfth and thirteenth to sever ties with McDonald’s since 2009, joining the ranks of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Truman Medical Center, Vanderbilt Medical Center, and others.

“I was shocked and disappointed to find McDonald’s in the world’s largest medical center,” said Azeen Anjum, first year Baylor College of Medicine student and member of Choosing Healthy, Eating Fresh (CHEF). “McDonald’s symbolizes the toxic dieta ry climate that contributes to America’s current epidemic of diet-related illness. It should not be allowed to continue damaging health in hospitals that serve our community’s most vulnerable populations.”

Siting stores in hospitals is one of the many ways McDonald’s attempts to “nutriwash” its brand.   Increasingly, health professionals are linking the skyrocketing rates of diet-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes to pervasive junk food marketing. Research from the Institute of Medicine and the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that ending kid-targeted junk food marketing could benefit the health of millions of children.

Dietitians from across Houston also weighed in on the issue.

“We are learning more every day about the roles of preservatives, refined sweeteners, oxidized fats and their role in diabetes, blood pressure, cancer, obesity and more” said Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE author of Naturally Nourished: Food-as-Medicine for Optimal Health. “As a nutrition expert I am confident in saying processed fast food like McDonald’s has been shown to have harmful deleterious effects not neutral.”

This week, hundreds of people in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Tampa are also calling on McDonald’s and other junk food corporations to end targeted marketing through schools and other institutions. The groups are organizing to support of school boards and hospital administrators to strengthen existing policies and sever ties with junk food corporations.

In the coming months, the Houston coalition will continue to build community support for Ben Taub Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital to prioritize its patients’ health over corporate profits.

 

Quantum Science Stuff


What word SCREAMS fascinating, mystifying science? Quantum. Webster’s dictionary says, with regard to physics, quantum means the “smallest amount of any form of energy (such as light)”.  NASA is into all sorts of quantum science stuff. Let’s take a stroll through some of NASA’s quantum interests.

NASA has a quantum computing lab. The gringa asks, “What does it do? What does it do?” Located at the Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility in California, NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) is studying the computer of the future and how this technology is relevant to the future of mankind. Collaborating with Google and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), technology is being developed to not only optimize existing computer technology, but to go beyond and create computers that can do what was before considered impossible.

Again, the gringa asks, “Like what?! Like what?!” (You can picture my little dance, hopping from one foot to another, flinging my hands up and down, as I impatiently ask this question). Well, how about “quantum teleportation”? The gringa says, “WHAT?! Are you KIDDING ME?” (now hopping straight up and down on both feet).  The cute little cartoon above illustrates how the technology works.

If visuals aren’t your thing, the gringa will try to convey the concept. Imagine you have eyes that can see things as tiny as itty, bitty particles, which is what makes up everything in our world. Now, consider that there are two particles that, although separated by an incredible distance, they behave as if they are connected (kind of like a married couple). This is called entanglement (yeah, like I said, kinda like a married couple).

What scientists have done with this concept is teleported information about a particle of light over fifteen miles of optical fiber to a crystal “memory bank”. Voila! Quantum teleportation.

However, the gringa is no longer jumping up and down. I’m scratching my head and thinking, “So what!” I mean, it doesn’t really sound like a big deal. It doesn’t even sound like real teleportation to me. I mean, it traveled through a conduit, the optical fiber. I’ve seen enough episodes of Star Trek to know real teleportation means you simply vaporize, POOF, and rematerialize somewhere else. What a let down.

The gringa really doesn’t want to get shot through an optical fiber skinnier than a human hair to make a quick trip to the mall. It would make me feel like a drive-thru bank deposit. I was really looking forward to the POOF and re-materialization thing. I mean, you could strike a pose and really create a fantastic entrance wherever you went.

The “real-life” application of this technology is that it has potential to be used in cryptography. However, not only will it create secure information transmission between computers here on Earth, but also between Earth and spacecrafts. This would be done by imprinting two systems upon each other so that even when they are separated they behave as one system and, thus, unhackable (is that a word?).

So, with a quantum computer system Astronaut Annie can send a love note from Mars to Hubby Harry back on Earth and it would be as securely private as if they were writing love notes back and forth on the same pad of paper across the breakfast table from one another. Okay, the gringa does have to admit that is entirely cool. Hackers terrify me. I’m always afraid they’ll hack into my bank account and get my last five dollars (that’s usually all that’s ever in there, except for payday and maybe one day after, but, yeah, the rest of the time about five bucks).

Now, how this works is like this:  Alice has a yellow photon. She wants Bob to have one just like it. Their friend, Charlie, sends them each a blue photon (these photons are “entangled”, hence the same color).  Now, the rule of entanglement is since the objects are connected, anything done to one affects the other in the same way, as if they were one object. Alice smashes her blue and yellow photons together until the yellow residue dominates the blue. Now, Bob likes the color yellow better than blue so Alice wants to help him change the color of his photon. So, she teleports the information of the color yellow to Bob’s crystal memory bank and the color information imprints on Bob’s photon which now turns yellow.

So, in a nutshell, quantum teleportation is not anything like Star Trek’s device. Does that mean Star Trek technology is impossible? Um, this is NASA, NOTHING is impossible! The concept of the Star Trek transporter is that it changes matter into a signal that can be transmitted to another location and reappears. What this requires is an empty vessel of a corresponding shape waiting on the other end to receive the quantum state of transported information. So, transport a human body? Probably not. However, lay down on a transport bed and beam your consciousness into, say, a robotic version of yourself, could be.

If technology is developed to transport matter through space, what about transporting through time? Is time travel possible? Nope, not unless we get us some wormholes. And, even then it is still only a theory.

Communication and transporting matter is not the only technology that has something “quantum” about it. In medicine there is a device called the Quantum Resonance Spectrometer (QRS). It gathers cellular information from a human body which can be used to predict when a disease may strike based on an analysis of cellular change. The hope is that as this technology is perfected it will be used in preventative medicine. Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese hospitals are already using the technology in studies of cancer, cardiovascular and heart diseases.

How about quantum energy? Can we say good-bye to oil, coal, and wind power? Maybe. NASA is developing the “quantum dot” solar cell that is flexible, lightweight and absorbs light as if it were a mini-black hole on a sunshine diet. Because of the abundance and availability of solar energy in outer space, imagine the prospects! NASA wants to use these babies on rovers and habitats as well as auxiliary power sources.

The quantum dot not only reduces weight because of it’s tiny, microscopic size that efficiently produces energy, but it also lowers the cost of space travel. The cells can be produced in a process much like ink jet printing. Large batteries that take up a lot of cargo space can become a thing of the past. Can you imagine if cars no longer needed a gas tank? No more oilfields! Hoorah! Hoorah! What is NOT to love about this technology!

So, what is the next thing on the horizon with “quantum science stuff”? How about a world-wide quantum network? If we thought the invention of the Internet was an amazing thing, the gringa says, “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

 

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov