Oren Milstein is the Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of StemRad, which works in partnership with Lockheed Martin to produce AstroRad.

Oren Milstein

Oren Milstein

Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of StemRad

Hennah

Hennah Khan

Antenna

 

What is the AstroRad radiation shield?

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Image: StemRad Ltd

'The AstroRad is a vest-like piece of personal protective equipment for astronauts exploring deep space. It shields them from harmful space radiation. The vest is made of layers and varies in thickness to selectively protect those organs and tissues that are most sensitive to radiation, such as the lungs or stomach. These tissues are primarily located in the torso and pelvic areas, leading to the vest-like design.'

 

Why is space radiation so dangerous?

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Image: NASA

'Radiation in space takes the form of tiny fast-moving particles that arrive from sources such as the Sun and transfer their energy to another object, such as a rocket or an astronaut. These highly energetic particles can pass straight through the skin, damaging cells and splitting DNA. This can lead to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and radiation poisoning. In some cases, symptoms only appear decades after radiation exposure. '

 

Why were these suits not necessary for other space missions?

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Image: NASA

'When astronauts venture beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), they leave the radiation protection offered by the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field, which deflect radioactive particles. The Apollo programme was the only time in history when humans travelled beyond LEO, and they were fortunate to avoid a significant solar particle event, where particles emitted by the Sun become accelerated to dangerously high energies.'

 

What challenges did you face in developing AstroRad?

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Image: HubertRoberts/Wikimedia

'We had to take into account thickness, mass, volume, durability, flexibility and many other considerations to create the most efficient radiation protection without compromising the comfort or mobility of astronauts. That's why each suit is made individually. The male and female suits are also different due to the need to protect sex-specific organs and tissues. '

 

Did you have previous experience of developing personal protective equipment?

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Image: StemRad Ltd

'The concept behind the AstroRad evolved from StemRad's 360 Gamma, a wearable shield already in use by first responders to radiation incidents on Earth. The shield selectively protects the pelvis and its store of bone marrow from penetrating gamma radiation. This bone marrow houses the largest concentration of stem cells in the body, allowing the wearer to quickly recover from radiation poisoning despite minimal shielding.'

 

What's next for AstroRad?

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Image: NASA

'In collaboration with the Israeli and German space agencies, the AstroRad will be tested on NASA's Orion Exploration Mission 1 that launches in 2019 to orbit the Moon. Two female dummies - one wearing the AstroRad and one not - will be fitted with thousands of radiation sensors and strapped aboard to measure the impact of deep space radiation on the human body and the protection offered by AstroRad.'

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