To use beams of heavy ions provided by the Booster accelerator at Brookhaven
to study the effects of simulated space radiation on biological and physical
systems, with the goal of developing methods and materials to reduce the
risk to human beings on prolonged space missions of the effects of ionizing
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Project cost $34 million over 4 years
$8 million per year
• beams of heavy ions extracted from the Booster accelerator with masses and
energies similar to the cosmic rays encountered in space:
• 1-billion electron volt (GeV)/nucleon iron-56
• 0.3-GeV/nucleon gold-97
• 0.6-GeV/nucleon silicon-28
• 1-GeV/nucleon protons
• 1-GeV/nucleon titanium
• 0.29-GeV/nucleon carbon
• a new 100-meter transport tunnel and beam line to deliver the beam to a
400-square-foot shielded target hall for NASA -funded space-effects
• a target hall connected to 4,560- square-foot support building, which
includes five laboratories for biological and materials experiments; and
specimen, dosimetry, and control rooms
• user support from Brookhaven’s Biology and Medical Departments
NASA, four national laboratories and institutes in the U.S. and Europe, 15
universities in the U.S., Europe, and Japan
NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven
Discovering Space Travelers’ Exposure Risks
Because astronauts are spending more time in space, the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working with Brookhaven
National Laboratory and others here on Earth to learn about the possible
risks to human beings exposed to space radiation.
To study the radiobiological effects using beams that simulate
the cosmic rays found in space, a new, $34-million NASA Space Radiation
Laboratory (NSRL) has been established at Brookhaven Lab.
Jointly managed during the four-year construction by the U.S.
Department of Energy’s Office of Science and NASA’s Johnson Space
Center, the new facility employs beams of heavy ions extracted from
Brookhaven’s Booster accelerator, the best in America for radiobiology
studies. NSRL also features
its own beam line dedicated to radiobiology research, as well as state
of the art specimen-preparation areas.
When the NSRL became operational during summer 2003, over 75
experimenters from some 20 institutions from the U.S. and abroad took
part in what was the tenth running of heavy-ion beams at Brookhaven
solely for radiobiology research. With the NSRL on line, instead of
running only once or twice a year, radiobiology and physics experiments
are conducted three to four times per year, for five to six weeks per
Since astronauts are spending more time in space, they are receiving
more exposure to ionizing radiation, a stream of particles that, when
passing through a body, has enough energy to cause the atoms and
molecules within that substance to become an ion.
By directly or indirectly ionizing and thus damaging the
components of living cells, including genetic material called DNA,
ionizing radiation may cause changes in cells’ ability to carry out
repair and reproduction. This may lead to mutations, which, in turn, may
result in tumors, cancer, genetic defects in offspring, or death.
Although the spacecraft itself somewhat reduces radiation
exposure, it does not completely shield astronauts from galactic cosmic
rays, which are highly energetic heavy ions, or from solar particles,
which primarily are energetic protons.
By one NASA estimate, for each year that astronauts spend in deep
space, about one-third of their DNA will be hit directly by heavy ions.
New NASA facility
From 1995 until 2002, Brookhaven Lab researchers and their colleagues
used beams of heavy ions for radiobiology research at another Brookhaven
accelerator. To simulate the less than 1-GeV energy spectrum of galactic
cosmic rays and solar radiation better, NASA and Brookhaven have worked
together since 1997 to build the NSRL based at the Booster accelerator.
Within the NSRL target room, Brookhaven researchers and other
NASA-sponsored scientists irradiate a variety of biological specimens,
tissues, and cells, as well as DNA in solution.
Other experimenters use industrial materials as samples, studying
their suitability for space suits and spacecraft shielding.
In increasing knowledge of the effects of cosmic radiation, NSRL
studies may expand the understanding of the link between ionizing
radiation and aging or neuro-degeneration, as well as cancer.
In aiming to limit the damage to
healthy tissue by ionization, NSRL research may also lead to
improvements in cancer radiation treatments.