Don’t Forget Sunblock on the Moon

Why We Go is a WayPaver Foundation publication focused on sparking conversation about the economic, scientific, and technical opportunities presented by the development of a Lunar Settlement. Featured here is one of the articles from our first volume. Read the whole issue here: http://waypaverfoundation.org/whywego/ and look out for our second featured article next week.

From improved artificial limbs to the renowned DeBakey heart pump, space exploration has uniquely advanced science for the improvement of the human condition. The space environment challenges our creativity to design more robust solutions for its unforgiving conditions. Life as an astronaut requires countermeasures to protect the body from the effects of microgravity, radiation, increased carbon dioxide levels, psychosocial stresses, and more. These conditions have led to technologies that are increasingly more mobile, low-energy, and versatile.

A portable ultrasound device, for example, can be used as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool for both astronauts in space and health-care workers on earth. While medical device development continues to improve, our team is especially excited about a novel approach to protecting the human explorer in space: finding solutions that advance the performance and resilience of the body itself.

As described in WayPaver’s Lunar Settlement Index, galactic cosmic radiation and solar particle events are of particular concern for life on the moon. Radiation exposure outside of Earth’s protective magnetosphere is implicated in a broad range of potentially life-threatening health conditions, such as increased susceptibility to cancer and brain degenerative diseases later in life. Ameliorating radiation damage in astronauts, through both structural shielding and biological countermeasures, is a top priority for success across mission-critical tasks.

Advanced habitat design can provide some shielding, but may be ineffective in protecting crew from the health impacts of the space environment’s continuous flux of galactic cosmic rays.

A sustainable settlement on the moon will require consistent radiation protection, particularly for unsheltered activities on the lunar surface. Even highly resilient structures will not be sufficient for protecting long-term healthy life on the moon.

For this purpose, individual-based preventative countermeasures are essential to attenuate the toxicities of radiation exposure. Our team at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute is investigating various biomedical solutions that enhance human resilience through protecting and potentially augmenting cellular, tissue, and organ system function. We are particularly interested in an immuno-boosting approach in natural protective measures against radiation. Ideal countermeasures may offer a more flexible strategy to provide resistance as needed during periods of higher-risk radiation exposure. Imagine a daily vitamin that enhances your system’s ‘immunity’ to the effects of radiation.

These products may have occupational applications for earth as well. Radiation protection is essential for defense, mining, and disaster response, but could even be used for lesser-known high radiation risk jobs, such as medical imaging, aviation, or other frequent flier professions. Results from our work will pave the way for future research in ‘functional foods’ for cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment, disaster exposure, and even military personnel protection.

Space exploration has shown us the ever limitless boundaries of science and exploration — it’s on us to take the next step in propelling human capability.

From the author Diana Dayal (above): “In the American spirit of pioneering new frontiers, I am inspired to push the boundaries of medicine and science in our quest for a brighter future here on Earth.

Through the interdisciplinary realm of space medicine, I hope to propel healthcare solutions for austere environments, in the most under-resourced corners of our planet, or 250 miles into the skies, at the gateway to the rest of our universe.

I am working with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), a non-profit scientific organization that partners with and is supported by NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP). NSBRI leads a national effort to conduct the integrated, critical path, biomedical research necessary to support long-term human presence, development, and exploration of space and enhances life on Earth by applying the resulting advances in human knowledge and technology.”

Read the rest of Why We Go at http://waypaverfoundation.org/whywego/.

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