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Space Radiation Element

The Space Radiation Element (SRE) of NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) seeks to characterize human health outcomes associated with space radiation exposure, helping the space agency build strategies that protect astronaut health and ensure safe human spaceflight.

The aurora australis above the southern Indian Ocean

About the Space Radiation Element

Once astronauts venture beyond Earth’s protective atmosphere, they will be exposed to increased levels of ionizing radiation from two main sources: energetic particles from the Sun and galactic cosmic rays. This ionizing radiation can travel through living tissues, depositing energy that causes structural damage to DNA and alters many cellular processes.

Scientists do not fully understand all the specific ways in which this ionizing radiation affects the human body. To learn more, NASA’s HRP created SRE.

SRE’s goal is to develop the knowledge base required by NASA to predict and manage the risks that deep space radiation poses to human health. These health concerns include an increased risk for cancers, damage to the central nervous system, degenerative diseases like cataracts and heart disease, as well as acute radiation sickness.

To accomplish this goal, SRE scientists and partners conduct research at ground-based facilities, including the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Loma Linda University Proton Treatment Center. Experiments performed at these facilities mimic conditions of space’s radiation environment. Results from tests help scientists build risk models, investigate the genetic consequences of radiation to biological systems, and develop better methods to shield spacecraft.

SRE research seeks to:

  • reduce the uncertainties in risk predictions for cancer and acute radiation risks
  • provide information to develop risk projection models for central nervous system and other degenerative tissue risks
  • better understand the mechanisms of biological damage that underlie radiation health risks
  • produce biological safeguards against radiation risks.

Individual and team investigators interested in working with SRE specifically and HRP in general can learn more at HRP’s collaboration portal. To contact the SRE team, email them at jsc-hrp-space-radiation-element at mail.nasa.gov.