The Environment of Space Exploration

  • Arnauld E. Nicogossian


Understanding the nature of the space environment is as important for physicians, astronauts, life scientists, and aeronautical engineers, as it is for planetary and physical scientists. Designing spacecraft, safe crew living quarters, personal protective systems, work procedures, and exploration systems has and will continue to benefit from robotic exploratory missions. Robotic missions inform aerospace engineers as to the function, design and performance of crewed systems for future exploration missions. The complexity of planetary human space missions will continue to increase in the future as we venture farther and for longer periods of time into our Solar System. Practitioners of space medicine must be prepared to use the knowledge gathered from robotic missions to identify challenges and hazards to address the health risks for future human expeditions and potential settlements beyond the confines of the biosphere. Future crews’ exposure to space hazards, notably radiation, and possibly to new ecosystems, require special and careful planning. The future of human space exploration is coupled with scientific curiosity based on robotic missions and also by the direction provided by the U.S. President’s space policy. Commercial aspirations for exploring and prospecting for resources of our Solar System are poorly defined and will require international agreements to be addressed by the United Nations. Astrobiology, planetary protection, and ethical considerations are also discussed. This chapter provides a short review of our Solar System, and discusses prospective destinations, intended to inform physicians, biomedical engineers, and mission planners interested in space medicine. Some of the mentioned destinations are in the planning stages by different space agencies, and by commercial entities. The fields of planetary sciences and space physics continue to make newer discoveries, which might not have been captured in this chapter. For a more in-depth scientific and technical review of our Solar System and the Universe, interested readers should consult appropriate scientific publications.


Biosphere Dwarf planets Exoplanets Exploration Gaseous planets Minor planets Solar system Terrestrial planets Kuiper Belt Oort Cloud Asteroid belt Circumstellar habitable zone Comets Meteoroids Ethics of exploration Astrobiology International agreements Planetary protections Quarantine Forward and back contamination Water and ice Extraterrestrial resources Giant planets International Astronomical Union COSPAR UN Magnetosphere Cryovolcanism 



The author wishes to acknowledge the significant contributions to prior versions of this chapter by Peter Alf, Michael B. Duke, Douglas P. Blanchard, and Stephanie L. Roy.

Supplementary material

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Ch 2_ Space Exploration Environments (PDF 2089 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Distinguished Research Professor, Schar School of Policy and GovernmentGeorge Mason UniversityArlingtonUSA

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