Donate to Science & Enterprise

S&E on Mastodon

S&E on LinkedIn

S&E on Flipboard

Please share Science & Enterprise

Early Space Bio-Experiments Detailed in New Book

– Contributed content –

Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17

Astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt with the lunar lander and rover during the Apollo 17 mission. (

26 June 2019. Editor’s note: A new book by David Warmflash, MD tells about interactions and experiences of humans with the moon, from legends and myths in ancient civilizations to projections for future colonies. Many of today’s biological experiments in space, on which we report in Science & Enterprise, can be traced to efforts by scientists working with early satellites and on Apollo missions that Warmflash describes and illustrates in his publication. Here are examples from the book.

“On January 31, 1958, the ABMA-JPL [Army Ballistic Missile Agency – Joint Propulsion Laboratory] team launched the satellite Explorer I into an orbit higher than either of the two Soviet missions. Featuring a cosmic ray detector designed by University of Iowa physicist James Van Allen (1914–2006), Explorer I detected radiation particles trapped in certain regions and altitudes by Earth’s magnetic field. This led Van Allen to propose the existence of radiation belts that later would be vital to the planning of piloted lunar missions.” (p. 121)

“Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in the late 1950s, NASA had known that using the most direct trajectory to the Moon would expose astronauts to potentially lethal doses of radiation—protons and heavy ions, also called HZE particles, that have been trapped by the geomagnetosphere. Considering fuel, the inclination of the Moon’s orbit around Earth, shielding capability of the Apollo hull, and the geometry of the belts, the solution was a trajectory that traversed only the corner of the inner belt, very rapidly, avoiding its most lethal radiation entirely, and that took astronauts through a fairly narrow region of the outer belt for just a few hours.

“This minimized exposure to trapped radiation, but did not eliminate it. Furthermore, outside the belts, space is full of un-trapped HZE particles, which exist as components of two types of deep-space radiation. One type, called solar particle events (SPEs), produces many low-energy HZEs periodically. The other type, called galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), includes smaller numbers of HZEs, but they are highly energetic and always present in the space between the outer Van Allen Belt and the Moon.

“It was unknown to what degree HZE particles from the outer belt and from GCR would affect life forms. To study the issue, European scientists sent Biostack I and Biostack II, experiments respectively in the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 command modules. Researchers measured HZE exposure in numerous biological species, including Artemia salina shrimp eggs, spores of Bacillus subtilis bacteria, and Arabidopsis thaliana plant seeds. HZE particles did not harm B. subtilis spores, nor did Arabidopsis seeds fare worse than control seeds on the ground, although the shrimp eggs exposed to HZEs in space proved more sensitive than the other organisms.

“Since Apollo 17, very few biological experiments have even flown outside the Van Allen belts. As for humans in deep space, there are very few data. Studies hint that there are reasons to be concerned about flights beyond LEO possibly elevating risks for cancer and cardiovascular conditions, cataracts, and other long-term effects, but the issue requires more study and we may not know the limits of human radiation tolerance until we return to the Moon and establish bases.” (p. 185)


Book cover

(Sterling Publishing)

Moon: An Illustrated History: From Ancient Myths to the Colonies of Tomorrow (Sterling Illustrated Histories)

David Warmflash
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Sterling; Illustrated edition (May 7, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1454931981
ISBN-13: 978-1454931980

Kindle edition
File Size: 33227 KB
Print Length: 224 pages
Publisher: Sterling (May 7, 2019)
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Language: English

Updated, 3 July 2019: The book is also listed on Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.


More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Comments are closed.