Brookhaven Lab's NASA Summer School Students Explore How to Protect Against Health Risks in Space Travel

UPTON, NY - Childhood dreams and mentor encouragement, paired with scientific expertise in areas ranging from biology to physics, have united an elite group of students and scientists from around the world who will participate in the fifth annual NASA Space Radiation Summer School at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. The group will work in Brookhaven Lab's Medical Department and NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) - a unique facility that simulates the harsh radiation environment of outer space - to study ways to protect against possible risks astronauts may face during future long-term space flights. The three-week course will be held May 28 to June 20. Fifty-eight students have participated in the program to date.

As NASA gears up for an outpost on the Moon, plans for exploration of near-Earth asteroids, and prepares for a mission to Mars, many potential health risks to human space travelers remain unknown. It is vitally important to learn how astronauts will be affected by deep-space radiation and how to best protect them from harm. To tackle these challenges and help make space travel as safe as possible, the NASA Summer Program provides an opportunity for top graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from various scientific backgrounds, as well as scientists trained in the discipline of space radiobiology, to work together.

"The radiation environment in space contains numerous types of charged particles of high energies, and the NSRL enables researchers to perform studies here on earth to examine the biological effects of exposure to these charged particles," said Peter Guida, Medical Department Liaison Scientist for this program at Brookhaven Lab. "This type of research is essential to help determine the possible risks that space travelers may encounter."

Fifteen graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and working scientists, along with two auditing professionals, are participating in this year's summer school. (Participant list can be viewed here. The program has three scientific modules: physics/dosimetry (led by Lawrence Heilbronn of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), cell-molecular-animal biology (led by Gregory Nelson of Loma Linda University Medical Center), and experimental methods (led by Betsy Sutherland of Brookhaven Lab). The program is sponsored by NASA and organized and managed by Brookhaven Lab, Loma Linda, and Universities Space Research Association (a consortium of universities, research organizations, and governmental groups involved in space research).

"Our goal is to attract the highest quality students and fellows from diverse scientific backgrounds and help train them to be the next wave of space radiation researchers," said Eleanor Blakely of Lawrence Berkeley, 2008 NASA Summer School Director.

The intensive, three-week course offers a unique physical and intellectual environment not duplicated in the nation's universities, medical schools, or research institutes. Students participate in both classroom activities and scientific experiments, working side-by-side with top space scientists from research organizations such as NASA, Brookhaven Lab, Lawrence Berkeley, Loma Linda University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Experimental creativity and interdisciplinary approaches are emphasized.

Studies at NSRL simulate space radiation to learn how the intense rays may promote the development of cancer, as well as how this radiation can affect the central nervous system and other organ systems of the body. NSRL researchers are also looking at ways to protect against these dangers through shielding and other strategies to minimize the risk to space travelers.

NSRL is a $34-million facility that was built by Brookhaven Lab with funding from NASA with the cooperation of the Office of Nuclear Physics within the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. Operational since 2003, the facility is part of the Lab's collider-accelerator complex, which is maintained by the DOE Office of Science's nuclear physics program and receives incremental operations and maintenance funding from NASA. It employs beams of heavy ions extracted from Brookhaven's Booster accelerator that are the best in the U.S. for studying the effects of radiation on living organisms. Scientists from more than 20 research institutions from throughout the U.S. and abroad work year-round at NSRL, supported mainly by NASA funding, to learn about the possible risks to space explorers exposed to deep-space radiation.

Journalist note: Contact us to arrange a photo of a particular individual student or group. Students will be at Brookhaven Lab until June 20.

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