NASA’s First Ground-based Galactic Cosmic Ray Simulator: Enabling a New Era in Space Radiobiology Research
May 28, 2020 | Biology
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by Lisa C. Simonsen, Tony C. Slaba, Peter Guida, Adam Rusek
With exciting new NASA plans for a sustainable return to the moon, astronauts will once again leave Earth’s protective magnetosphere only to endure higher levels of radiation from galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) and the possibility of a large solar particle event (SPE). Gateway, lunar landers, and surface habitats will be designed to protect crew against SPEs with vehicle optimization, storm shelter concepts, and/or active dosimetry; however, the ever penetrating GCR will continue to pose the most significant health risks especially as lunar missions increase in duration and as NASA sets its aspirations on Mars. The primary risks of concern include carcinogenesis, central nervous system (CNS) effects resulting in potential in-mission cognitive or behavioral impairment and/or late neurological disorders, degenerative tissue effects including circulatory and heart disease, as well as potential immune system decrements impacting multiple aspects of crew health. Characterization and mitigation of these risks requires a significant reduction in the large biological uncertainties of chronic (low-dose rate) heavy-ion exposures and the validation of countermeasures in a relevant space environment. Historically, most research on understanding space radiation-induced health risks has been performed using acute exposures of monoenergetic single-ion beams. However, the space radiation environment consists of a wide variety of ion species over a broad energy range. Using the fast beam switching and controls systems technology recently developed at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a new era in radiobiological research is possible. NASA has developed the “GCR Simulator” to... More of this in the PLOS Biology Blog.
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