Artemis I on Mission to Study Impacts of Cosmic Radiation

by | Nov 25, 2022 | News Articles, Product, Space Exploration

This uncrewed Artemis I mission will not only test its spacecraft for future missions, but also study the health risks posed by cosmic radiation.

Finally, after much-delay, the ambitious Artemis mission to put humans back onto the moon has begun. On November 16, the Artemis I mission took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, lighting up the sky as it blasted off on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft. This uncrewed mission’s sole purpose is to lay the foundation for future Artemis missions and, extending even further, Mars missions. The 42-day celestial journey of Orion will encompass the testing of Orion’s systems as the spacecraft navigates, communicates, and operates in a deep space environment.

Artemis I will also be the first step towards the success of a crewed Artemis II mission, scheduled for 2024, and future lunar exploration projects, including the establishment of Gateway. In preparation for crewed expeditions to space and moon, the possible health risks posed by cosmic radiation on humans will have to be dealt with.

Orion spacecraft’s design (Source: NASA)

While Earth’s magnetic field shields us and our planet from space radiation, it may be a different ball game altogether when humans venture out into space and become exposed to cosmic radiation for  long durations. A team of Duke University bioengineers partnered with National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) in a project to study the space radiation effects as part of the Artemis I mission. As such, the crew module of Orion spacecraft carries three mannequins, or manikins (technical term for research mannequins), during its first Artemis mission. 

Named Zohar, Helga, and Commander Moonikin Campos, each manikin will represent the upper human anatomy and be fitted with high-tech technology, including sensors to measure the accumulated radiation in different parts of the body. Commander Moonikin Campos will be dressed up in the bright orange Orion Crew Survival System (OCSS) spacesuit and sensors to assess acceleration and vibration, and radiation. On the other hand, Helga and Zohra are covered with more than a thousand radiation sensors to gather internal radiation readings for precise organ locations. While Helga and Zohar can both be considered twins, Zohar will be fitted with a radiation protection vest whereas Helga will not be covered with the protective shield.

Orion spacecraft (Source: NASA)

The Artemis mission may not be humankind’s first trip to the moon, but it is the first lunar expedition to take people of colour and women to space. And when it comes to space radiation, women can be affected more in certain organs, such as the breasts. Thus, both Helga and Zohar have been designed to emulate the female anatomy. 

Duke University’s Center for Virtual Imaging Trials (CVIT) Director Ehsan Samei adds, “When we are exposed to radiation, the damage is deposited directly into the organs—and different organs have different levels of radiosensitivity. For example, breast tissue tends to be more radiosensitive, while muscles are not as radiosensitive. The brain is less radiosensitive than the heart. That’s why it is essential for the study to keep track of radiation and where in the body it is deposited.”

Essentially, space is deadly and a lot of risks come with sending astronauts to space. But in our mission to navigate the lunar landscape and step foot on Martian soil, we have to tackle health and safety, on top of other daunting challenges. There is much to be studied and understood about cosmic radiation and its interactions with the human body if we want to continue the exploration of space in a safe manner.