Given NASA’s indifference to von Braun’s Nazi past, the agency’s ethical orbit may be far enough out that the questionable nuking of monkeys is justified. Comments by the project’s leader Jack Bergman also suggest that NASA is hoping to find that the intense outer space radiation astronauts would experience might not impair them as much as previously known, making manned space travel possible even if potentially harmful for the crews.
Regardless of President Obama’s refigured vision for America’s space program, powerful and entrenched forces are not likely to back down in their fight to protect their investment in a continued manned program, $9.1 billion of which has already been spent on Constellation.
In the fight over whether Constellation is totally eclipsed or not is a relatively small study, yet to be finally approved, that could prove to be a stumbling block: irradiating monkeys with massive doses of radiation to learn just how much radiation astronauts endure.
If tests show that the monkeys survive intense nuclear bombardment, the findings could support Constellation by suggesting that it’s safe to nuke humans with powerful radiation for months at a time even though no amount of ionizing radiation is safe according to a 2005 National Academies of Sciences Report.
“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial,” said committee chair Richard R. Monson, associate dean for professional education and professor of epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. “The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise proportionally with exposure.”
Furthermore, the National Research Council cautioned in early 2008 that present technology to protect against space radiation “would not allow a human crew to undertake a Mars mission and might also seriously limit long-term Moon activity.”
Unless Obama convinces Congress to scuttle Constellation entirely, based on economic and ethical intelligence, monkeys and humans will be bombarded with withering amounts radiation, not in the name of good science, but in the name of the national will. It’s a plan only a Nazi could love.
Keeping astronauts alive in space, however heroic, costs up to 100 times more than using robotic spacecraft and rovers. Critics of manned interplanetary exploration point out that we are already on Mars with the rovers Opportunity and Spirit which have outlived their original missions by years and have provided NASA far more valuable data than ever imagined.
Considering the advancements in computers since the days of the Apollo Moon landings, where today’s common Blackberry has more computing power than all of NASA had guiding the exploration, robotics are superb interplanetary explorers.
Even if Americans landed again on the Moon or even Mars, they would need robotics and computer technology to accomplish every task including the primary one, keeping the astronauts alive. Robots don’t run out of air, freeze to death, get burned alive or have their brains scrambled by radiation so intense NASA still can’t protect against it.
Robots just cease functioning. Or at least they’re supposed to. Two weeks ago, NASA announced that the still-roving Spirit could rove no more and was repositioning itself to catch the Sun’s faint rays to power out of hibernation once Mar’s fierce winter is over in about six months.
Before getting stuck in sand, Spirit had already outlived its original three-month mission lasting six years, traveling twelve miles on the Martian surface and successfully surviving thousands of daily temperature swings of as much as 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Still, Bush’s Constellation program continues on, tackling one of the main obstacles to manned travel and exploration beyond Earth’s protective atmospheric bubble: radiation. Intense high energy radiation in outer space could fry astronauts’ brains making it impossible operate spacecraft or undertake experiments.