Modern astronauts are spending ever greater amounts of time in space, exposed to the little-understood effects of cosmic radiation. NASA and Brookhaven National Lab have established a joint lab—the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL)—on the Brookhaven campus to study the possible effects of this exposure.NSRL Overview
Since astronauts now routinely spend six or more months in space, they receive more exposure to ionizing radiation , a stream of particles that, when passing through a body, may cause atoms and molecules within that substance to become ionized. The ionization process damages components of living cells, including DNA, that may inhibit cell reproduction and repair. This, in turn, may lead to cell mutations that cause serious illness, or shortened life spans. By one estimate, for each year that astronauts spend in deep space, about one-third of their DNA will be directly hit by ionizing particles.
The research conducted at NSRL increases our understanding of the link between ionizing radiation and cell damage. Our work seeks to limit the damage to healthy tissue by cosmic radiation, leading to safer space exploration for astronauts ad possible improvements in cancer-fighting treatments for all.
The NSRL uses beams of heavy ions extracted from Brookhaven's Booster accelerator, the best in America for radiobiology studies, to simulate the cosmic rays found in space. NSRL features its own beam line dedicated to radiobiology research and state-of-the-art specimen preparation resources. Within NSRL, scientists expose biological specimens---tissues, cells, and cell DNA---to beams of heavy ions. Other experimenters use industrial materials as samples, studying their suitability for space suits and spacecraft shielding.