In 1958 Explorer satellite discovered the now-notorious Van Allen Belts.
These vast seas of deadly radiation, consisting mostly of electrons and protons
trapped by the earth's magnetic field,
begin several hundred miles out and extend with varying intensity
for some 40,000 miles into space.


"The Van Allen Belts are, of course, too hot to linger in--
so hot that future space stations will have to orbit either below them or above them--
but not especially dangerous to moonbound Astronauts
who can speed through them in a few minutes' time."

This past Christmas (2005) I received a present of some old 1962, 1963 and 1964 issues of LIFE magazine. In the October 2nd, 1964 edition there's a big story on NASA's plan to land a man on the moon in 1969. It describes how NASA plans to turn Astronauts into Cyborgs (cybernetic organisms) to overcome the problem of space radiation from the Van Allen Belts and Sun Flares. I've divided excerpts from the article into two parts. The first half follows below. ~ Jackie Jura

Pitfalls and perils out there
by Albert Rosenfeld, pages 112-122
LIFE magazine, October 2nd, 1964

So many soul-freezing obstacles still stand in the way of manned space travel that they constantly remind us of the firm and unequivocal judgment voice by Grandma Moses on the occasion of her 100th birthday. "The Lord put us on earth," she said, "and we should stay here until He comes after us." But Dr. Hubertus Strughold of the U.S. Air Force has suggested space travel might seem a less presumptuous aspiration if we remind ourselves that we are already, and always have been, engaged in it. Man, he points out, was born on a spacecraft and so far it has carried him with relative safety through the immensities of the cosmos.

The craft's name, of course, is Earth and, on it, man routinely survives and performs his varied functions while hurtling at breakneck velocities through a vast, essentially inhospitable void; all that separates him from the vacuum of space is the impalpable atmoshphere.

Inside this atmosphere man finds comfort, even luxury. It protects him from cosmic radiation and meteorites, and from extremes of heat and cold. It gives him a sheltering environment that includes food and water.

Since man evolved in this environment, his biology is totally dependent upon it. Herein lie both the dilemma of space travel and its possible solution: man must figure out how to take a piece of his environment with him wherever he goes. Though the original flights of Astronauts and Cosmonauts to date have taught us much, they have also served to underline how much we still do not know. A formidable array of interlocking problems remains to be solved before we can feel reasonably confident of bringing our Astronauts back unharmed from the first lunar voyage...

Meanwhile, we crash ahead under the spirited aegis of NASA, with all our resources committed to a moon landing by 1969, serenely optimistic that, between now and trip time, we will fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Much of this added information will come from a carefully planned series of step-by-step experiments. There will be a number of manned earth-orbital missions in both the Gemini (two-man) and Apollo (three-man) capsules before the Apollo goes on to flights around the moon prior to the actual landing attempt. None of these missions will last longer than 14 days...

For the Apollo flights, and for all future space travel, there remains yet one more all-pervasive worry: radiation. Space is full of radiation--high-frequency waves like X rays and gamma rays, enormously energetic particles such as electrons, protons and a variety of cosmic rays, any of which, on making a direct hit on an atom or molecule in a human cell, can cause damage. On earth, the atmosphere protects us from most of this radiation. It is the space beyond the atmosphere that concerns space doctors. So far, all manned orbiting has taken place on the bare fringe of space, just above the atmosphere. The highest anyone has gone is 203 miles. At that altitude hazards from radiation--mainly from cosmic rays--have turned out to be minimal. In fact, after the Man High balloon flights in 1957 and 1958, scientists concluded that radiation would be no real problem after all. Then, a few months later, the Explorer satellites discovered the now-notorious Van Allen Belts. These vast seas of deadly radiation, consisting mostly of electrons, and protons trapped by the earth's magnetic field, begin several hundred miles out and extend with varying intensity for some 40,000 miles into space.

Beyond the belts there is still cosmic radiation to contend with--and one additional menace: solar-flare radiation. Violent magnetic storms on the sun periodically spew out torrents of enormously energetic particles. This solar-flare activity appears to be cyclical, coming to its peak about every 11 years. The next peak is due to occur at the end of this decade--just when some of our important lunar missions are scheduled. On this score alone, a good many scientists still think our present timetable is foolhardy and are certain that the moon trips will have to be postponed beyond 1970.

NASA scientists and independent astronomers are working hard on the problem of predicting solar flares more accurately. Until recently many believed it would be certain death for Astronauts to get caught out in a solar storm. But the estimated odds have lately been revised heavily in favor of the Astronauts. On the basis of data radioed back from satellites, NASA planners are now convinced that radiation hazards will not be serious enough to call off any space project currently contemplated, including the moon landing. They insist that cosmic radiation does not shape up as a major menace. The Van Allen Belts, they say, are of course, too hot to linger in--so hot that future space stations will have to orbit either below them or above them--but not especially dangerous to moonbound Astronauts who can speed through them in a few minutes' time. As for solar flares, NASA scientists believe that even if unanticipated eruptions were to occur during an Apollo flight, the Astronauts could still abort their mission and high-tail it for home. Dr. Wright Langham of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory believes that exposure to repeated solar-flare bombardment spread out over a period of days does not carry the same biolgical penalty as the same exposure in an acute dose. On the whole, says Dr. Langham, unless the lunar Astronauts are "awfully unlucky," they ought to make it back all right.

There is no special radiation shielding being built into the Apollo capsule. To provide really radiation-proof shielding would make the cabin impossibly heavy. On the other hand, the walls of the Apollo capsule itself, ingeniously multi-layered to protect against extremes of heat and cold as well as the possible impact of micrometeorites, should provde good protection against radiation as well. Apparatus and supplies are also arranged around the capsule to provide maximum shielding. And Astronauts caught in a solar flare could get some added protection by turning the most heavily shielded part of the capsule toward the sun.

Just the same, the radiation hazard in all its various forms certainly adds to the high risk of the lunar mission. Accordingly, scientists have lately been concentrating their main attention on perfecting ways to make the body itself resistant to radiation damage. Experiments with animals have shown that lowering the body temperature or slowing down the body's rate of metabolism somehow makes the body's cells less susceptible to radiation damage. Some drugs, too, have shown early promise. Though no one has yet quite figured out the mechanism by which these drugs protect cells against radiation damage, scientists now foresee the development of safe and effective anti-radiation pills and ointments.

The quest for anti-radiation medicines did not, of course, begin with the space age. AEC and Army scientists have been working in this area for a long time. But among those pursuing the anti-radiation pill with great vigor for space purposes is Dr. Toby Freedman of North American Aviation, Inc. Dr. Freedman operates on the general philosophy that, if you can't modify either the spacecraft or the environment, "then there is only one thing to do--modify the man." He strongly advocates looking into all sorts of shadowy areas once considered outside the legitimate province of science....




Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~