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Hungarians Measure Radiation Dose on NASA’s New Spacecraft with the Help of Phantom Torsos

Fanni Kaszás 2018.09.25.

For the first trial flight of NASA’s new spacecraft to the moon without humans, the Energy Research Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) will help with Dose Measurement using a phantom torso to measure the amount of radiation a human is exposed to during an extended space flight. The experiment will also play an important role in the preparation of later human missions to Mars.

NASA’s new Orion Spacecraft (Orion Exploration Mission 1, Orion EM-1), is scheduled to go on a trial mission around the Moon at the end of 2019, without humans on board. An essential element of the experiment is the preparation of future human long-duration space exploration and human missions to Mars. The measurements will be taken using an anatomical model of a female head and torso that contains different types of radiation sensors. This experiment is important because it aims to measure the amount of radiation a human receives during a space flight with the goal of better protecting future astronauts.

In space, besides the cold, oxygen, water, soil, and lack of family, astronauts also have to face the adverse effects of cosmic radiation, which can be can be up to hundreds of times stronger than on the Earth’s surface. It is really important to know the radiation space and dose received in order to estimate the health risks of a human mission and build an effective protection for the future.

The staff of the Energy Research Center of MTA has been invited to participate in several missions. The first was in 2001 when the first permanent staff was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) to help place passive detectors throughout the ISS which measured radiation in space. They also participated in the MATROSHKA experiment between 2004 and 2011 under the leadership of German Aerospace Center (DLR).

the phantom torso in the MATROSHKA experiment with astronauts on the ISS (photo: NASA)

In these experiments, as well as in the new Orion mission, astronauts are replaced by phantom torsos made of a fabric-equivalent material based on the human skeleton and various passive and active dosimeters are installed both on their surfaces and insides. Thus, the doses on the skin and the internal organs (eyes, thyroid, lung, stomach, liver, kidney, etc.) and the distribution of doses within the phantoms can be measured. One of the phantoms will wear the AstroRad radiation protection vest developed by Israeli StemRad, so they can measure its shielding capabilities.

According to plans, Orion EM-1 will be released on December 16, 2019. The total length of the mission is not yet known, but the projected length is 26-42 days. NASA’s main goal with the mission is to allow astronauts to explore space under safer conditions and now Hungarian researchers have the opportunity to contribute. The invitation for participation does not involve direct funding, but NASA funds a significant amount of the space mission and scientists only have to pay for the detectors, construction, calibration and evaluation costs via domestic or institutional tenders.