The rise of space exploration since the mid-20th century has highlighted some of the most threatening dangers that face astronauts when they venture into space. Radiation is one of these dangers, and perhaps the most important. Recently, by analyzing data from the Chinese rover Chang’e 4, researchers determined the dose of radiation that astronauts receive on the moon; and this is far from negligible. Results which should help better protect future astronauts on the Artemis mission.
While the Apollo mission astronauts carried dosimeters to the moon to measure radiation, the data was never reported. The first systematically documented measurements of radiation on the moon were taken in January 2019 when the Chinese robotic spacecraft Chang’e 4 mission landed on the other side of the moon, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.
Astronauts on a lunar mission would experience an average daily dose of radiation equivalent to 1369 microsieverts per day – about 2.6 times more than the daily dose of the International Space Station crew. Astronauts face a number of potentially harmful radiation sources in space, which the Earth’s atmosphere protects us from on a daily basis.
Radiation: the main space hazard for astronauts
These include galactic cosmic rays, sporadic solar particle emission events (when particles emitted by the sun are accelerated), neutrons and gamma rays, interactions between space radiation and the lunar soil. ” The radiation levels we measured on the Moon are about 200 times higher than on the Earth’s surface and 5 to 10 times higher than on a flight from New York to Frankfurt », Explains Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber, professor of physics at the University of Kiel.
” Because astronauts would be exposed to these radiation levels for longer than passengers or pilots on transatlantic flights, this is a considerable exposure. “. Radiation exposure is one of the major health risks for astronauts, as chronic exposure to galactic cosmic rays (GCR) can induce cataracts, cancer or degenerative diseases of the central nervous system or other systems. organic, according to the study.
NASA scientists describe radiation as one of the five dangers of human space flight and the “most threatening”. During the Artemis lunar mission, when the first woman walks on the moon in 2024, astronauts are expected to stay on the lunar surface for a week and perform at least two moon walks.
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Better protect future manned missions
While the astronauts remained on the International Space Station for a year, the ISS sits right in the Earth’s protective magnetic field. This means that if astronauts are exposed to radiation levels 10 times higher than on Earth, it is a lower dose than what deep space has in store for them.
A mission to Mars would probably take two to three years and a much higher radiation dose. Space vehicles, NASA explains, will wear protective armor, dosimeters and warning systems. Research is also being carried out on pharmaceuticals that could help defend against radiation.