What Happens to the Human Body in Space

NASA astronaut Christina Koch pauses as she helps replace equipment on the International Space Station. She and her fellow astronauts face a suite of health effects while in space. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — For over 50 years, NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) has studied what happens to the human body in space. Researchers are using what they learn to design procedures, devices, and strategies to keep astronauts safe and healthy throughout their missions.


How In­tense and Dan­ger­ous is Cos­mic Ra­di­a­tion on the Moon?

Chang’e-4 lu­nar lan­der im­aged by the Yu­tu-2 rover (Credit: CNSA/CLEP/NAOC)

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — The Chang’e-4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the Moon on 3 January 2019, with a German instrument for measuring space radiation on board. Since then, the Lunar Lander Neutron and Dosimetry (LND) instrument has been measuring temporally resolved cosmic radiation for the first time.

Earlier devices could only record the entire ‘mission dose’. In its current issue, the scientific journal  Science Advances reports on the work of the international group of scientists involved with the LND, including researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). Their investigations have involved more precise radiation measurements on the Moon.


Growing Stem Cells for Deep Space Exploration

Artist impression (not to scale) idealising how the solar wind shapes the magnetospheres of Venus (top), Earth (middle) and Mars (bottom). Unlike Venus and Mars, Earth has an internal magnetic field that deflects the charged particles of the solar wind as they stream away from the Sun, carving out a ‘bubble’ – the magnetosphere – around the planet. At Mars and Venus, which don’t generate an internal magnetic field, the main obstacle to the solar wind is the upper atmosphere, or ionosphere. (Credit: ESA)

Radiation protection is the final frontier in human space exploration.

PARIS (ESA PR) — Earth’s magnetosphere protects us from the most harmful cosmic rays that bombard our planet but beyond this natural shield, astronauts are subjected to radiation that is a hundred times more than at sea level.

The risks of radiation are in the spotlight of ESA’s research efforts. The first ‘radiation summer school’ took place last year to train students and stimulate novel ideas for research into the effects of space radiation on humans.


European Gateway Experiment will Monitor Radiation in Deep Space

The Gateway concept (Credit: NASA/ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The first science experiments that will be hosted on the Gateway, the international research outpost orbiting the Moon, have been selected by ESA and NASA. Europe’s contribution will monitor radiation to gain a complete understanding of cosmic and solar rays in unexplored areas as the orbital outpost is assembled around the Moon.

The first module for the Gateway, the Power and Propulsion Element, is set to launch on the second Artemis mission and will host two external scientific investigations.


NASA Protects Its Astronauts From Space Weather

NASA’s Human Research Program aims to mitigate the harmful effects of the space radiation environment on astronaut health outside of the relative protection of the Earth’s magnetosphere. (Credits: NASA / SOHO)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — It’s not a bird or a plane but it might be a solar storm. We like to think of astronauts as our superheroes, but the reality is astronauts are not built like Superman who gains strength from the sun. In fact, much of the energy radiating from the sun is harmful to us mere mortals.


Double Hero of Soviet Union Cosmonaut Going Blind From Space Radiation

Soviet cosmonauts burnt their eyes in space for USSR’s glory

“Renowned cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev, who set the absolute record for his stay in Earth’s orbit, loses his eyesight speedily. “I suffered from a lot of radiation in space. It was all concealed back then, during the Soviet years, but now I can say that I caused damage to my health because of that flight,” the legendary pilot said.

“The cosmonaut, who spent 221 days in the orbit in 1982, has progressive cataract. The legend of the Soviet space exploration becomes blind. Moscow’s best ophthalmologists examined the 66-year-old cosmonaut, but they only say that it is impossible to save his eyes.”

ESA to Study Radiation Risk to Astronauts on Mars Trips

View inside the 120-meter long accelerator UNILAC at GSI.
Credit: G. Otto


ESA has chosen the GSI accelerator facility in Germany to assess radiation risks that astronauts will be exposed to on a Mars mission. GSI was selected because its accelerator is the only one in Europe able to create ion beams similar to those found in space.

To determine possible health risks of manned space flights, scientists from all over Europe have been asked to investigate the effects of ion beams in human cells and organs. The first experiments will be launched this year and subsequently continued at GSI’s planned FAIR accelerator system.


NRC to NASA: Don’t Lower Radiation Standards for Lunar Missions

In a potential blow to NASA’s human spaceflight efforts, the National Research Council released a report today calling on the space agency to conduct more research on cosmic radiation before sending astronauts to the moon and Mars. NASA should not lower its radiation exposure standards to reach these goals.

The Committee on the Evaluation of Radiation Shielding for Space Exploration’s report (PDF) said the “lack of knowledge about the biological effects of and responses to space radiation is the single most important factor limiting prediction of radiation risk associated with human space exploration.”

As a result, prolonged operations on the moon could be curtailed. Mars exploration, which would require long transit times and stays on the the surface, could be ruled out entirely until scientists and engineers develop better ways of protecting astronauts.

The committee’s chairman, James van Hoften, told Reuters that NASA doesn’t fully understand the radiation risk, nor is the agency adequately funding research into how to properly protect astronauts. NASA is using old data, including research done on Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors.


Carnival of Space #44: The Angry Red Planet Edition

Bad Astronomy is hosting the Carnival of Space, a regular collection of space-related articles. The 44th edition features just about everything you might want to know about the future of human exploration of Mars. Articles include:

    Stuart Atkinson writes about the Red Planet’s changing landscape
    Ian O’Neill discusses an early-warning system for solar flares to protect Martian colonists
    Colony Worlds has a piece on radiation hazards on other planets
    Ethan Siegel tells you why Mars colonists may go thirsty
    Nancy Atkinson discusses one-way, one-person trip to the Red Planet
    Next Big Future has a piece on how future explorers might travel to Mars using carbon nanotubes solar sails
    Mars Odyssey reviews how ISS experience could help us build a Martian spaceship
    And who will be first to Mars? Might it be an Indian or South Korean? Or a woman?

Check out these stories and more from the Carnival of Space at the Bad Astronomy site.