Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven Lab -
Earth-based Research on Space-Radiation Risks
researcher sets up an experiment in NASA's Space Radiation
the PDF version of this page (95 Mb)
the protection of the Earth's atmosphere and geomagnetic field,
and shielded only by their spacecraft and spacesuits, astronauts
are constantly being bombarded by cosmic rays from space. Cosmic
radiation consists mostly of protons and ions of heavier atoms such
as iron -- all of which have enough energy potentially to cause
biological damage to living cells.
the concern for astronaut safety and a desire to protect space travelers
from harm, NASA has been studying the possible biological risks
of space radiation and how to mitigate them since the 1970s at Earth-based
particle accelerators. In 1995, NASA moved experiments using heavy
ions to the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory
on Long Island, N.Y., which then operated the only heavy-ion accelerator
in the U.S. suitable for radiobiology studies. For the past eight
years, the NASA Biomedical Research Program has supported fundamental
studies in radiation biology at Brookhaven and other research centers.
Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven Laboratory
Space Radiation Health Project
space-radiation research opportunities
of Science, U.S. Department of Energy
Life Sciences Division, Office of Biological and Environmental
Government and Public Affairs
Betsy Sutherland, Ph.D.
Marcelo Vazquez, M.D.,
In 1977, NASA
and Brookhaven Lab recognized that another of its particle accelerators
-- the Booster -- was better suited to simulate the less than 1
billion electron volt energy range of most space radiation. So a
four-year, $34-million project to develop the Booster's potential
as the best heavy-ion accelerator in the U.S. for this research
and to triple NASA-sponsored researchers' ability to perform radiobiology
experiments and to investigate new shielding materials was begun.
In 2003, the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) at Brookhaven
Lab was opened.
For its inaugural
three-week run, NSRL hosted 75 experimenters from about 20 space
centers, national laboratories including Brookhaven, and universities
and medical schools in the U.S. and abroad. Participants included
scientists from nations participating in the International Space
Station (ISS). Since crewmembers are spending more time in space
on the ISS, they are exposed to more cosmic radiation than space
travelers on previous missions -- which makes the completion of
NSRL and the participation of an international collaboration in
NSRL research particularly timely.
From the Booster
to NSRL, beams of heavy ions such as iron, silicon, carbon and titanium
are delivered through a new, 100-meter transport tunnel to a 400-square-foot
shielded target hall. There, radiobiologists and medical scientists
irradiate a variety of biological specimens, tissues and cells,
as well as DNA. Specifically, they are investigating radiation-induced
damage to chromosomes, as well as to organs such as the skin, eye
and brain. Other researchers test dietary measures and drugs that
may counteract the effects of radiation. In other experiments, various
materials are subjected to irradiation to determine their suitability
for spacesuits or spacecraft shielding.
use during their three to four experimental runs per year, the 4,560-square-foot
NSRL also contains five laboratories and specimen rooms, as well
as a dosimetry room and a control room. While Brookhaven's Collider-Accelerator
Department operates the Booster, is responsible for NSRL accelerator
systems, and provides the radiation dosimetry necessary for the
radiobiology experiments, the Laboratory's Biology and Medical Departments
provide experiment support services to NSRL facility users. Staff
from all three Brookhaven departments also perform research at NSRL.
at NSRL contributes to an ongoing, extensive effort to study space
radiation and to find ways to keep astronauts fit and healthy as
they travel through the solar system and after they return. NASA
is funding approximately 50 research grants in radiation biology
and radiation shielding at U.S. universities and national laboratories.
may also be helpful to earthbound citizens who never venture into
space. For instance, advances in radiation detection, shielding
and other radiation-mitigation techniques may be applied to workers
both on Earth and in space. And a better understanding of the effects
of radiation on living cells may lead to improvements in the use
of radiation to treat disease, as well as to the prevention of radiation-induced
of the ten national laboratories overseen by the Office
of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven
National Laboratory conducts research in the physical
biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in
energy technologies and homeland security. Brookhaven
Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities
available to university, industry and government researchers.
Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE's Office
of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability
company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest
academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle,
a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.