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How a Wearable Vest Can Protect Astronauts on a Mission to Mars

radiation vest

Protection from radiation is one of the fiercest challenges facing teams with the ultimate goal of sending humans to Mars and bringing them safely home. Whereas the Orion spacecraft contains an advanced storm shelter for the crew, additional equipment could help improve astronauts’ operational efficiency—especially if a radiation storm were to last longer than a few hours.

As part of an ongoing collaborative effort, now entering its second year, a concept for radiation protection is being developed by Lockheed Martin and StemRad, Inc. The joint effort has the backing of a bilateral research committee and will be supported by grants from Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency of Florida and MATIMOP, the executive agency of the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy of Israel.

The plan is to take a radiation-shielding vest, originally designed for first responders and military personnel, and adapt it for astronauts traveling in deep space. For three primary reasons, a wearable vest may be an ideal solution for human missions on the way to and from Mars:

1.  It provides mobility between different spacecraft elements. For example, astronauts can move from within the Orion storm shelter, to and from a habitat, or crew quarters containing extra supplies. This way, astronauts can continue performing critical tasks during a Solar Particle Event.

2.  The vest design protects vital organs most susceptible to radiation and its detrimental health effects such as bone marrow, reproductive organs and lungs.

3. Efficient use of mass is critical for long-duration human spaceflight and wearable vests take up minimal space.

“We’ve taken years of experience gained through the protection of emergency rescue workers and are currently adapting our designs for human deep space exploration,” said Dr. Oren Milstein, StemRad’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “Creating radiation shielding equipment that could accompany and help enable the first manned mission to Mars is incredibly exciting!”

To progress the vest’s research and development, Lockheed Martin and StemRad Inc., are:

  • Performing ergonomic evaluations of the vest inside an Orion mockup to ensure freedom of movement.
  • Using advanced nano-materials to design a customizable, high-fidelity vest prototype.
  • Developing an experiment recommendation for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in which two anthropomorphic torso dummies, mimicking tissue density characteristics and anatomy of real human beings, would be positioned inside the Orion crew module. Each torso would be retrofitted with dosimeters at various organ locations such as the lungs and stomach. One torso would be provided by the German Space Agency (DLR) and the other, which would be wearing a radiation vest prototype, would be provided by the Israel Space Agency (ISA).

“The development of this vest has brought together an international community of radiation experts attempting to solve one of the biggest challenges of long-duration human space exploration,” said Dave Murrow, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company business development manager. “This collaboration underscores the global nature of exploring space.”

deep space