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NASA's first ground-based Galactic Cosmic Ray Simulator: Enabling a new era in space radiobiology research

With exciting new NASA plans for a sustainable return to the moon, astronauts will once again leave Earth's protective magnetosphere only to endure higher levels of radiation from galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) and the possibility of a large solar particle event (SPE). Gateway, lunar landers, and surface habitats will be designed to protect crew against SPEs with vehicle optimization, storm shelter concepts, and/or active dosimetry; however, the ever penetrating GCR will continue to pose the most significant health risks especially as lunar missions increase in duration and as NASA sets its aspirations on Mars. Historically, most research on understanding space radiation-induced health risks has been performed using acute exposures of monoenergetic single-ion beams. However, the space radiation environment consists of a wide variety of ion species over a broad energy range. Simonsen et al. describe how, using the fast beam switching and controls systems technology recently developed at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a new era in radiobiological research is possible. NASA has developed the "GCR Simulator" to generate a spectrum of ion beams that approximates the primary and secondary GCR field experienced at human organ locations within a deep-space vehicle. The image represents the impact of such a spectrum of ions on the human body; proportionally, the numerous white and blue tracks are representative of proton and helium ion strikes while the thicker colored tracks are representative of heavier ions such as oxygen, carbon, and iron nuclei which impart greater damage to cells, tissues, and organs per track.

Image Credit: NASA

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