DR. SKY BLOG

NASA researchers looking to protect astronauts from health problems

Oct 10, 2017, 4:50 AM
(Photo: NASA)...
(Photo: NASA)
(Photo: NASA)

Space can be a very dangerous place for astronauts on long missions. It has been known for some time that extensive exposure to the radiation of space will have a damaging effect on humans.

Lucky for us, most of this dangerous radiation is filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere.

Cosmic radiation is bombarding all the planets of the solar system on a regular basis and some of the most powerful radiation is in the form of cosmic rays and radiation from the sun in the form of high energy particles.

NASA has known of the dangers of this radiation for quite some time, thanks to the data recorded from the Apollo-manned missions to the moon.

Astronauts on these moon missions had a high degree of potential heart disease and related health issues after being in space for long periods of time.

But now NASA is looking into ways to keep crews safe from these particles while on long missions, including increasing the shielding on future Mars spacecraft.

Some new technologies that are in the works to prevent health issues also include DNA-altering drugs which could help treat any damage to human cells caused by radiation.

Epigenetic modification of human DNA could help build in repair patterns to our existing DNA when its bombarded by extreme doses of radiation.

While there are many ethical and legal considerations to these new advances in technology, one thing is certain: We must prepare for the long-term effects of radiation on future astronauts on missions to Mars.

Just last month, a large solar flare sent lots of powerful radiation in Mars’ direction and much of that radiation created large and powerful auroras in the Martian atmosphere, with high amounts of radiation making its way to the planet’s surface.

This would be of great danger to any astronauts on the surface of the planet, as Mars does not have the same type of protective barrier like we have here on earth.

The dangers of space radiation lie in the fact that these high energy particles collide with the nuclei of cells and alter them.

Space radiation can be summed up as the following particles: Van Allen Belt Radiation, Solar Radiation and Galactic Cosmic Radiation.

Here on earth, the tiny micro animals known as Tardigrades may hold the answer to dealing with space radiation.

These tiny, water-dwelling creatures can withstand intense exposure to radiation in space, survive in high heat and extreme cold, not eat for years and may lie dormant for 30 or more years with little or no water.

There may be an enzyme that lies within the Tardigrade which might help repair or maintain DNA which has been exposed to high does of radiation, but much more research is needed on how humans can endure and survive the harsh environment of space.

To get your very own October sky chart, click here.

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NASA researchers looking to protect astronauts from health problems