Researchers in eight states and the District of Columbia will study the effects of space radiation on tissues and cells, at a specialized facility at the Brookhaven National Laboratory under new grants funded by .
With crews spending more time on the International Space Station, and space radiation long identified as the limiting factor on human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit,has used the Upton, N.Y., facility—known as the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory — to simulate the ionizing radiation that floods space as galactic cosmic rays and solar particles.
Under the latest round of grants for studies at Brookhaven, researchers will bombard tissue samples and mice with high-energy particles from the laboratory’s accelerators. Among the effects to be studied are links between reproductive hormones and chronic inflammation as factors in estimating the cancer risk from space radiation, and analysis of how stem cells modulate radiation-induced carcinogenesis.
Also on the new list are the study of neurochemical and behavior responses to space radiation, and the effects of high-energy particles on cognition. Many of the 12 studies — funded at an average of $1 million each — are aimed at refining the ability to calculate cancer risk from space radiation .
With current propulsion, shielding and other spacecraft technology, astronauts on a two-year mission to Mars would receive radiation of more than the lifetime dose permitted by health standards. To address the problem, NASA and Brookhaven plan to activate the Space Radiation Laboratory periodically for studies specific to human spaceflight.
The lab itself includes an extraction system to remove pulses of heavy ions from the booster accelerator that prepares beams for the Brookhaven Alternating Gradient Synchrotron. Beams produced by the AGS are typically more energetic than those found in space, so the lower-energy booster beam—which draws from the facility’s Tandem Van de Graaf accelerator —provides beams to the NASA experiments.
Beams of ion, silicon and gold at energies of 0.6-10 billion electron volts per nucleon are funneled into a shielded 400-sq.-ft. target hall via a 100-meter transport tunnel. The NASA facility also includes a 4,500-sq.-ft. support building with laboratories , control rooms and other equipment.
Institutions winning new NASA grants for research with the Brookhaven facility are the University of California’s Berkeley and Irvine campuses; Georgetown University; Steward St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston; University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus; Wake Forest University; New York University School of Medicine; New York Medical College, Oregon Health & Science University; Universities Space Research Association; and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (two awards).