Imagine a human spacecraft crew voyaging through space. A
satellite sends a warning; energetic particles are being
accelerated from the sun’s corona, sending dangerous radiation
toward their spacecraft, but the crew isn’t worried. Long
before their journey, researchers on Earth conducted
experiments to accurately measure the hazards of space
radiation and developed new materials and countermeasures to
protect them.

To ensure the safety of spacecraft crews, NASA biologists and
physicists will perform thousands of experiments at the new
$34 million NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL)
commissioned today at the Department of Energy’s (DOE)
Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. The laboratory,
built in cooperation between NASA and DOE, is one of the few
facilities that can simulate the harsh space radiation

“Scientists will use this facility as a research tool to
protect today’s crews on the International Space Station and
to enable the next generation of explorers to safely go beyond
Earth’s protected neighborhood,” said Guy Fogleman, director
of the Bioastronautics Research Division, Office of Biological
and Physical Research (OBPR), at NASA Headquarters in

Space radiation produced by the sun and other galactic sources
is more dangerous and hundreds of times more intense than
radiation sources, such as medical X-rays or normal cosmic
radiation, usually experienced on Earth. When the intensely
ionizing particles found in space strike human tissue, it can
result in cell damage and may eventually lead to cancer.

Approximately 80 investigators will conduct research annually
at the new facility. “The NSRL will enable us to triple the
ability of researchers to perform radiobiology experiments and
the resulting science knowledge,” said Frank Cucinotta, the
program scientist for NASA’s Space Radiation Health Project at
Johnson Space Center, Houston. “Scientists at universities and
medical centers across the nation will use the facility to
investigate how space radiation damages cells and tissues such
as the eyes, brain and internal organs,” he said.

For each experiment, an accelerator produces beams of protons
or heavy ions. These ions are typical of those accelerated in
cosmic sources and by the sun. The beams of ions move through
a 328-foot transport tunnel to the 400-square-foot, shielded
target hall. There, they hit the target, which may be a
biological sample or shielding material.

“Physicists will measure how specific particles interact with
shielding material, ” said James Adams, the program scientist
for the Space Radiation Shielding Program at NASA’s Marshall
Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “We can use this
knowledge to improve our ability to predict the effectiveness
of various materials and to develop and test new materials.”

At NSRL, the radiation health team will perform extensive
tests with biological samples placed in the path of the
radiation. They will use the information to understand
mechanisms of radiation damage to cells, predict risks, and
develop countermeasures that mitigate radiation effects.
“Advances in radiation detection, shielding and other
radiation-mitigation techniques may be applied to workers in
space and on Earth and may lead to improved use of radiation
to treat disease on Earth and prevent radiation-induced
illnesses,” Fogleman said.

Since the 1970s, NASA has been using particle accelerators to
understand and mitigate the risks of space radiation. The NSRL
will take advantage of the high-energy particle accelerators
at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a DOE facility established
in 1947. Construction of the new facility began in 1998, and
was funded in part by NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical

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For information about Brookhaven National Laboratory, contact:
Mona S. Rowe at: 631/344-5056, or for information on the
Internet, visit: