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Space Radiation Research

NASA Space Radiation Health Project

The Sun

The Sun emits radiation that can cause cellular damage to humans in space.

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Once astronauts leave Earth's protective atmosphere, they will encounter harmful space radiation -- galactic cosmic rays (GCR), particles of high energy and high charge (HZE), protons, and secondary particles including neutrons. Space radiation ionizes, or deposits energy, as it traverses through material and living tissue. Space radiation differs drastically from the x-rays or gamma rays that we experience on Earth by producing more complex types of DNA or cellular damage that may lead to adverse health risks even at low doses.

The Space Radiation Health Project (SRHP), based at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), is one facet of NASA's overall Space Radiation Health Program and leads the overall integration and implementation of spaceflight safety. NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR) tasks its Bioastronautics, Fundamental Space Biology, and Microgravity Sciences Divisions to understand and quantify the space radiation environment and its effects on astronauts. Under the direction of the Bioastronautcs Division, the JSC Space Radiation Health Project coordinates and integrates a radiobiology research program; develops and maintains a database of risk prediction models; and seeks to develop technology leading to countermeasures that will prevent, reduce, and ameliorate harmful radiation effects.

Radiobiology Research Program


NASA Space Radiation Health Project
NASA Johnson Space Center
Houston, Texas 77058
Dr. Francis A. Cucinotta

NASA space radiation research opportunities
Office of Biological and Physical Research
Washington, D.C. 20546
Dr. Walter Schimmerling

NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven Laboratory
P.O. Box 5000
Upton, N.Y. 11973-5000
Dr. Frank M. Sulzman

Brookhaven National Laboratory
P.O. Box 5000
Upton, N.Y. 11973-5000

NASA has teamed with the Department of Energy (DOE) to construct the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL), a high-energy, heavy-ion irradiation facility at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, N.Y. Using this new NSRL facility, scientists from several universities and medical centers across the nation will be able to simulate the space radiation environment to investigate radiation-caused chromosomal damage and mutations; potential radiation damage to eye, skin, and brain tissues; and radiation effects on the formation of cataracts and tumors. In addition, new methodologies for assessing the radiation protection from spacecraft shielding and potential new dietary and pharmacological measures to counteract harmful radiation effects will be analyzed.

Computational Risk Modeling Tool

NASA has developed, and continues to refine, mathematical models of the space radiation environment, radiation transport, and DNA damage and repair for projecting astronaut risks. These models agree with physical measurements in Earth and Mars orbit to an accuracy of ±20% and are used both as a science application and an engineering design tool for space radiation shielding studies. Results from experimental studies at the NSRL will be used to improve the NASA computational risk model. In concert with estimations and standards for the biological effects of radiation, these models are used to estimate the amount of time an astronaut can safely live and work in space.

Design of Countermeasures

Countermeasures to mitigate radiation risk include limiting the time and duration of radiation exposure (carefully scheduling spacewalks) and designing shielding for spacecraft and spacesuits. Countermeasures that may hold promise for the future include paramaceutical radioprotectants and gene therapy to repair or eliminate damaged cells.

As astronauts leave our home planet for exploration missions and safely return, we aim to see that lives on Earth benefit from the research and technology that enabled their leap into the cosmos.

Beam profileDNA helixSolar radiation affects the Earth's atmosphere
SpacewalkerSunspot activity chartRadiation Climate on Mars

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 10/21/2003
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