Space Travel Radiation Found to Be Less Harmful... Kind Of

The Matroshka  phantom presented by astronauts (S. Krikaliew, J. Philips) on board of the International Space Station 5 photos
Photo: NASA
The MATROSHKA phantom presented by astronauts (S. Krikaliew, J. Philips) on board of the International Space Station.Interior structure of the phantom used in the experiment MATROSHKAThe MATROSHKA phantom presented by astronauts (S. Krikaliew, J. Philips) on board of the International Space Station.MATROSHKA phantom was covered by a container imitation the shielding properties of a spacesuit
There are a lot of dangers out in space but one of the biggest could be considered the high amount of radiation one could get there during a mission. This happens there because there is no protective atmosphere to filter these cosmic rays. However, new experiments show previous space radiation on humans data were a bit off, thus increasing hope for future space travel missions.
The good news come from the European Space Agency (ESA), which conducted an experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS), showing space travelers should fear less about radiation during their mission. All thanks to a phantom.

Not a real phantom, but a mannequin going by the name of Matroshka, which is a radiological doll made out of 33 horizontal cross sections containing special plastic to simulate different tissues, sensors and even real bones to effectively study the effects of space radiation. It also comes with a container that simulates a spacesuit.

Filtering cosmic rays

Speaking of space radiation, this is made up of protons and other heavy ions, as opposed to the more common gamma rays coming from terrestrial radiation sources. Even so, the damage they do is quite the same - increasing chances of developing cancer and damaging genetic material. While a person down on Earth gets about 2.5 mSv/year (Sv - sievert, unit used to measure the health effect of small amounts of radiation), an astronaut on the space station can get up to 1 mSv/day.

Between 2004-2009 the phantom underwent three exposures to cosmic radiation, each lasting a year or more. Two of these exposures occurred inside the Russian modules of the ISS and one, in a container imitating the shielding properties of a spacesuit, was placed in open space outside the ISS. Such measurements have never been done before.

After returning the detectors to Earth, their painstaking readout and analysis of the complete data gathered within the Matroshka experiment were carried out by teams of scientists at the IFJ PAN in Krakow, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne and at the Technical University of Vienna. Their overall conclusion was that the individual dosimeters worn by the crew inside the ISS overestimated the actual dose measured inside the phantom by about 15%. However, in open space this overestimation exceeded 200%.

Still, we should keep in mind the “space-walk” experiment was conducted in low-Earth orbit, where the planet’s magnetosphere still filters some of the cosmic rays. So, a trip to the Moon or Mars will still be dangerous, even though the radiation doses were found to be lower than what was measured before.
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