Anti-radiation vest may allow space exploration

Posted on 6 Mar 2017

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The company that makes anti-radiation vests has a web site which says full body gamma radiation protection would weigh a quarter ton, so they have a solution that only shields vital organs. 

US space agency NASA has said it hopes to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s.

The vest is made of layers that look like a contoured map and will be tailor-made for each astronaut. Non-metallic protective materials will be positioned on each shield to cover the organs of each astronaut.

What do the new vests weigh? What is the non-metallic material that provides radiation protection? Layers of what? They don’t say, but a patent I skimmed says “examples of gamma-ray/X-ray shielding materials are tungsten, hafnium, tantalum, and lead; examples of capture gamma-ray suppression materials are boron and lithium.” 

“This product will enable human deep space exploration. Our breakthrough has come in creating the architecture of the multi-layered shield to accurately cover the most important organs,” Milstein said.

StemRad say it has proven the concept in the laboratory and in simulations, but testing will also take place on the Orion spacecraft, a joint project of Lockheed Martin, NASA and the European Space Agency.

… The AstroRad Radiation Shield has been devised by Tel Aviv-based StemRad, which has already produced and marketed a belt to protect rescue workers from harmful gamma ray radiation emitted in nuclear disasters, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The vest will protect vital human tissue, particularly stem cells, which could be devastated by solar radiation in deep space or on Mars, whose sparse atmosphere offers no protection, StemRad’s CEO Oren Milstein said.

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I have to be that annoying kid in the back of the class that raises his hand and asks this question: How did the Apollo astronauts survive without gamma radiation protection, then? 

A good teacher would tell me to research this: How much gamma radiation do you get on a trip to the moon? The answer I found and believe is, it depends, a lot, on solar weather conditions.

One source says on a 6 month trip to Mars you’d get expect to get 250 mSv, that 1 Sv is the lifetime maximum allowed for an astronaut and that at 4 to 5 Sv, 50% of those exposed will be dead within 30 days. That sounds hopeful, but that trip to Mars is 100 times more radiation than we get in a whole year on earth. Worse, one bad solar event can dose you all at once with 1 Sv. 

During a stay on the moon humans are exposed to elevated radiation levels due to the lack of substantial atmospheric and magnetic shielding compared to the Earth’s surface. The absence of magnetic and atmospheric shielding allows cosmic rays of all energies to impinge on the lunar surface. Beside the continuous exposure to galactic cosmic rays (GCR), which increases the risk of cancer mortality, exposure through particles emitted in sudden nonpredictable solar particle events (SPE) may occur. SPEs show an enormous variability in particle flux and energy spectra and have the potential to expose space crew to life threatening doses. On Earth, the contribution to the annual terrestrial dose of natural ionizing radiation of 2.4 mSv by cosmic radiation is about 1/6, whereas the annual exposure caused by GCR on the lunar surface is roughly 380 mSv (solar minimum) and 110 mSv (solar maximum). The analysis of worst case scenarios has indicated that SPE may lead to an exposure of about 1 Sv. The only efficient measure to reduce radiation exposure is the provision of radiation shelters.

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These vests make sense and I hope someone open sources the plans to print your own personal radiation armor, you know, for those bad Fukushima fallout days.


P.S. If you can have only one shield that allows you to still move, protect your pelvis, because that’s where most of your bone marrow cells are. Doing that saved lives at the Fukushima plant.