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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How To Get A Job With NASA As A Research Assistant


If you have dreams of outer space like the gringa, just what opportunity is there at NASA? Who are they looking for? What qualifications should upcoming NASA employees plan to pad their resumes with? How much does such an interesting and dynamic job pay?

Over half of the jobs available with NASA are at the professional levels for engineers and scientists. If you plan to have a top notch job application for one of these positions, be sure to take as many classes as possible in mathematics, computer and aerospace engineering, meteorology, and even accounting.

About twenty-five percent of opportunities are for administrative staff. This kind of NASA role involves analytical skills, top notch researching abilities, specialization with information technology, and budgeting experience. These are college graduate level careers and critical for project management.

There is high level competition to get coveted aerospace industry jobs. One of the things to do to secure your best chance of getting hired at NASA is to find a mentor. Many universities have agreements with NASA for research assistants. Check this avenue out to help get a foot in the door for a shot at a job that has earning potential from $11,000 – $30,000 annually.

An example of a NASA research assistant job with a college is one that was recently advertised by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University. They announced an opening for a Research Assistant in the “Science Planner on the Science Operations Team of the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst” program. This is an ongoing NASA mission that has been operating since 2004.  Such a position requires a college degree in Physics or Astronomy.

Need scientists only apply? Well, not according to Angela Beaman who has a degree in Fine Arts. She got a research assistant position with NASA through the Horticulture Department at Iowa State University. The first thing she did was let a childhood curiosity about plants encourage an adult decision to pursue more knowledge. She showed up at the university’s horticultural center and simply started asking questions. That eventually led to a NASA fellowship studying the cultivation of basil through hydroponics. She explains that the most important trait to have in pursuing career dreams at NASA is determination which will see a person through a lifetime of continuing education.

As the gringa tends to her humble little patio garden, I consider how important these things are that we often take for granted. For space exploration to be possible at the “next level”, it’s not enough to know how to keep humans alive. We also have to know how to keep alive organisms that are life sustaining. Astronauts have to be able to provide some green stuff for long-term missions. This not only feeds their stomachs, but also their lungs as technology advances to create a self-contained biosphere that can sustain life through a long-duration mission. If you want to be a part, take some classes, ask questions, and get involved on any level.

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

https://www.quora.com/How-hard-is-it-to-get-a-research-assistant-position-at-NASA

http://www.careerbliss.com/nasa/salaries/graduate-research-assistant/

http://jobregister.aas.org/node/47927

Photo credit:

http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/plantgrowth/careercorner/Angela_Beaman_Profile.html