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Anticipating the dangers of space

Alongside the well-known hazards of space -- freezing temperatures, changing pressures and isolation -- astronauts also face risks from radiation, which can cause illness or injure organs. Recently, a team of scientists examined the health implications of space radiation exposure in low-altitude polar orbits. The researchers used as a test case the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), whose mission documents were recently declassified. The MOL was conceived in 1963 and underwent planning from 1965 to 1969, but never actually flew. They found that the relatively minimal shielding of the MOL program's space vehicle and its high-inclination polar orbit would have left the crew susceptible to high exposures of cosmic radiation and solar particle events. Models designed by the researchers revealed that if the mission had continued through 1972, astronauts would have faced toxic doses of radiation during a massive solar event.

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