There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t considered the benefits of being a weather man but have you ever thought of a Space Weather man? It’s pretty much a wide open field right now – and pretty cutting edge too!
With all the space activity ahead, facing us like the dawn of a new day, the “National Space Weather Strategy” or Action Plan now details that they have outlined a basic framework to better understand, predict and even recover from space-weather events. Suzanne Spaulding, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Protection and Programs Directorate understands that the risk is serious and states that this strategy establishes the various steps to improve our understanding utilize a national approach to the security and preparedness for possible future events that are both potentially damaging and varied both here on Earth or while traveling out in space.
What are some of the concerns for here on Earth (which would also have an effect on the space-traveler) – there are the high energy solar flares. If on the Earth facing side of the Sun these can affect orbiting satellites, which in turn can affect everything from communications to anything that requires GPS etc. Also, the most powerful solar flares can pose a risk to the International Space Station. While Earth could dodge the proverbial bullet if it were to happen on a different side of the Sun then where-ever we may have space-travelers may be where the danger lies.
Another concern, CMEs or Coronal Mass Ejections; CMEs are these really big eruptions that send clouds of plasma from the Sun shooting across space at millions of miles per hour. If they strike Earth, they can give way to huge and intense geomagnetic storms with potential to much more than the solar flares. CMEs carry with them the risk of disrupting or taking down power grids, satellite navigation and of course communications. That may not seem awful but as we move forward into relying more and more on technology consider what just a power grid outage might do. (There was a CME in 1989 that was responsible for giving Quebec a 9 hour blackout.) Banking transactions come to a halt, that means Credit Cards are useless and more people rely on digital money rather than carry cash; with no power there are the obvious losses of civilian refrigerators but now we’re talking the suppliers when referring to an area as large as a portion of the power grid. 911, ambulance or police communications, would be down, hospitals while having back up for a time, would be at risk. Traffic Lights would be out and while in theory it sounds like your trip home just got faster, think of all the accidents, the inability to get a rapid police response, follow that through to the ambulance and hospitals. And finally (though there are more possibilities, you get the idea) thinks of computerized systems that have controls over dangerous substances, corrosive or contagions and now think of the systems going down – the whole event is a potential nightmare! [OH – and what if the outage includes a nuclear facility? Have you seen the bad Sci Fi movies where different disasters happen and the Nuclear Facility loses power and control?]
So surely you see where this is going and can agree that the White House and Homeland Security, etc. are correct to devout time and battle plans for this not so much potential as it is imminent event.
So, while we wait for our next generation to select space-weatherman; get trained, and join the work force, the Action Plan centers on six areas. One of them stipulates that NASA, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation work together to complete, within the next year, an assessment of sensor technologies needed for better forecasting.