An innovative protective suit against cosmic rays developed by Israeli startup StemRad is set to head for outer space. The Israel Space Agency and the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Space today signed an agreement with the German Aerospace Center for launching the Israeli company’s innovative suit as part of the next trial flight of NASA's Orion satellite. The company’s suit is designed for the first manned flight by Orion to Mars planned by NASA.
The German Aerospace Center is responsible for research into the effects of deep space radiation on the human body. As part of this research, Orion will be sent to the moon in 2018 with dummies on its deck, some of which will be dressed in StemRad’s protective suit, while other dummies will remain exposed. With the return of Orion to the Earth a month later, the dummies, which will contain thousands of radiation detectors, will be checked under laboratory conditions, and the level of radiation penetrating through StemRad’s suit and absorbed by them, if any, will be tested. The object is to make adjustments in the suit, if needed, in preparation for the manned mission to Mars scheduled for 2021.
The Israeli startup is cooperating in the innovative suit’s development with weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which is also involved in NASA’s program for launching a manned flight to Mars. “High-intensity ionizing radiation destroys bone marrow, the body’s means of producing blood, resulting in infections, cancer, and severe anemia,” says StemRad cofounder Oren Milstein, who holds a PhD in immunology from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. “Research shows that protecting 5% of the bone marrow is enough to generate recovery and renewal of the body’s cells.” The main hazard to which astronauts flying to Mars will be exposed is radiation from solar flares. These flares are liable to continue for many days, and Orion has limited space for its crew to protect themselves from dangerous radiation when solar flares are occurring. The function of the suit is to enable the satellite’s crew to function normally if a prolonged solar flare emitting large amounts of radiation takes place.
StemRad’s suit protects mainly bone marrow, the lungs, chest, stomach, intestine, and the ovaries among women. These organs are particularly sensitive to the formation of malignant tumors as a result of exposure to radiation. The suit itself is made out of hydrogen-rich materials and worn like a vest.
The Ministry of Science, Technology, and Space today said that thought had also been devoted to the uses that would be made of the plastic waste created in the satellite during the long trip to Mars. Plastic bags used for wrapping food products prepared for the astronauts will be recycled in the satellite and melted, and the compressed plastic washers produced at the end of the process will be attached to the suit in order to bolster the protection provided against radiation. The Ministry of Science, Technology, and Space added that the hydrogen in the plastic was ideal for stopping ionized particles.
Daniel Levitt and Milstein founded StemRad in 2011, a few months after the earthquake and subsequent disaster at the nuclear reactors at Fukushima, Japan. Following the disaster, they began developing a suit designed for the rescue forces in disaster areas who are exposed to dangerous high-intensity radiation.