Dent in the
Magnetosphere over the
South Atlantic
A problem of NASA's self-insurance.

From the start, NASA has been a self-insurer. Insurance companies classify innovative activities in space as experimental. The rates they would demand for a policy would be high enough to break NASA's budget. And so the head of NASA's insurance department must decide on his own which risks the organization can run and which not.

Some things he can ignore, for example, the unlikely possibility that on entering the atmosphere a piece of a satellite would not break into fragments, which in their 70-mile descent generally burn up into ashes, but instead fall as a lump of wreckage on a human being, a house or even a nuclear power station. Other dangers require a decision. For two weeks Bob Dickens, the department head, interrupted all external repair activity on manned space capsules and space shuttles as soon as they passed into a certain area over the South Atlantic.

The astronauts who were doing almost nothing except getting in and out of their craft, said that the effectiveness of their work was down to zero. And the result was that repair times were excessively lenghtened. Tiredness and mistakes as an accessory risk had to be balanced against the BASIC RISK assessed by the insurance department.

The problem is a dent in the earth's mantle and that affects radiation. Under the South Atlantic, beneath the crust of the sea bed, the layer of the sluggish, slumbering metal, which moves an inch in the course of three months and displays a deep HOLLOW or DENT. Which is why the magnetic field in the stratosphere surrounding the planet "sags" in this zone.

Aggressive particle radiation from the sun --- as had been occurring daily in the preceding weeks --- is potentially fatal to astronauts in this area over 2,500 square miles: their orbit passes above the protective ozone layer. The orbits of satellites cannot be changed and are determined at launch. The result is "Bob Dickens's torture," cursed by the space workers.

Let them curse, replied Dickens, it saves their lives. His job is to save NASA compensation payments to their dependents. It's impossible to sense the danger by looking at the blue ocean, at the seemingly calm waters of this part of the Atlantic. One cannot "see" in the protective magnetic field which tames particle radiation the INDENTATION. In fact our sun doesn't emit dangerous rays every hour. Radiation arises at the tip of the flares, those marvelous eruptions (as even Bob Dickens must concede) with which the sun shows us spirit. When such a massive geyser is registered on the probe, Dickens promptly radios his warning. Everyone is confined to the shelter of the capsule.

Dickens has refrained from warning ships sailing in the same area of the South Atlantic. They are not within NASA's self-insurance sphere. The Russian competitors haven't been informed yet either.

--- From The Devil's Blind Spot
Alexander Kluge
(New Directions)
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