Space Radiation Laboratory
Imagine a human
spacecraft crew voyaging through space. A satellite sends a warning;
energetic particles are being accelerated from the Sun's corona,
sending dangerous radiation toward the spacecraft, but the crewmembers
aren't worried. Long before their journey, researchers on Earth
conducted experiments to accurately measure the hazards of space
radiation and developed new materials and countermeasures to protect
To ensure the
safety of spacecraft crews, NASA biologists and physicists will
perform thousands of experiments at the new $34-million NASA Space
Radiation Laboratory, or NSRL, commissioned Oct. 14, 2003, at the
Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton,
N.Y. The laboratory, built in cooperation between NASA and the Department
of Energy, or DOE, is one of the few facilities that can simulate
the harsh space radiation environment.
more about NASA's space radiation research.
will use this facility as a research tool to protect today's crews
on the International Space Station and to enable the next generation
of explorers to safely go beyond Earth's protected neighborhood,"
said Guy Fogleman, director of NASA's Office of Biological and Physical
Research's Bioastronautics Research Division.
produced by the Sun and other galactic sources is more dangerous
and hundreds of times more intense than radiation sources, such
as medical X-rays or normal cosmic radiation usually experienced
on Earth. When the intensely ionizing particles found in space strike
human tissue, it can result in cell damage and may eventually lead
80 investigators will conduct research annually at the new facility.
"The NSRL will
enable us to triple the ability of researchers to perform radiobiology
experiments and the resulting science knowledge," said Frank Cucinotta,
the program scientist for NASA's Space Radiation Health Project
at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. "Scientists at universities and medical centers across the nation will use the facility to investigate
how space radiation damages cells and tissues such as the eyes,
brain and internal organs."
researcher works in the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory.|
For each experiment,
an accelerator produces beams of protons or heavy ions. These ions
are typical of those accelerated in cosmic sources and by the Sun.
The beams of ions move through a 100-meter (328-foot) transport
tunnel to the 37-square-meter (400-square-foot) shielded target
hall. There, they hit the target, which may be a biological sample
or shielding material.
will measure how specific particles interact with shielding material,"
said James Adams, the program scientist for the Space Radiation
Shielding Program at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville,
Ala. "We can use this knowledge to improve our ability to predict
the effectiveness of various materials and to develop and test new
At NSRL, the
radiation health team will perform extensive tests with biological
samples placed in the path of the radiation. They will use the information
to understand mechanisms of radiation damage to cells, predict risks
and develop countermeasures that mitigate radiation effects.
in radiation detection, shielding and other radiation-mitigation
techniques may be applied to workers in space and on Earth and may
lead to improved use of radiation to treat disease on Earth and
prevent radiation-induced illnesses," Fogleman said.
Since the 1970s,
NASA has been using particle accelerators to understand and mitigate
the risks of space radiation. The NSRL will take advantage of the
high-energy particle accelerators at Brookhaven National Laboratory,
a DOE facility established in 1947. Construction of the new facility
began in 1998, and was funded in part by NASA's Office of Biological
and Physical Research.
has unique effects on human DNA, cells, tissues and organs. For
a better understanding of space radiation, view the NASA fact sheet
Space Radiation (172 Kb PDF) and a recent issue of Space
Research (253 Kb PDF).