The recent New Scientist article with the ominous title 'First floor, deadly radiation!’ has been floating around the net and causing some discussions. I have been asked by a couple people for my take on it.
This is an old issue, nothing new. Anders, I and others have been discussing it for a few years and there are some very critical aspects of this that the article neglected to mention. The new report referred to in the article by Anders and Blaise is about a year old and the issue has been reported several times over the last couple years. Anders himself was surprised by the negativity of the article and how dramatic they made the entire issue.
First, let’s start this discussion with a little perspective. Space is dangerous. It is a vacuum with radiation, meteors, and extreme temperature swings. If you go to space without protection the lack of air will kill you, thermal differences will kill you and, yes, as the article states – without shielding radiation will kill you. The limits set for radiation exposure for astronauts is 50 rems. Below this level there is no expected radiation sickness but you do run a slight chance of getting cancer later in life. No astronauts have been exposed to this but in one case a near miss of a solar storm almost gave a set of Apollo astronauts a much higher and deadlier dose.