Introduction

The history of space radiation research started in 1912 when the Austrian physicist Viktor Franz Hess (1883-1964) sent detectors into the upper atmosphere by using balloons to measure the attenuation of terrestrial radiation with distance. Quite to his surprise he found an increase in radiation intensity rather than the expected reduction. He interpreted this by postulating what we nowadays call "space radiation" and later he could also show that the main source is not the sun but the galaxy. Deservedly Hess received the Nobel Prize in 1936 for his work. Thanks to the modern developments which began with the famous "sputnik" in 1957 we are now in the possession of a wealth of data although the origin of galactic cosmic rays remains still an enigma.

The radiation field in space may pose a considerable hazard to astronauts but it extends its action also to the terrestrial environment. Its composition is quite different from that on earth, it contains mainly charged particles of considerable energies. The analysis of their biological effects confronts the researcher with new and demanding problems, both theoretically and experimentally. This chapter will summarise some of the results obtained. It starts with the radiation sources and then discusses the important biological results which will be used to delineate the possible risks involved.

J. Kiefer, Radiation Risks from Space, Lect. Notes Phys. 656, 275-292 (2005) http://www.springerlink.com/ © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005

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