Getting By in a Radioactive Universe
07.17.19 | Wednesday | Nofit Amir
Nuclear explosions occur on a regular basis in our universe, and on an unfathomable scale. Gamma-ray bursts, which occur when a large star collapses into a black hole, account for the most powerful nuclear explosions – emitting, in a few seconds, the amount of radiation that the sun would produce over 10 billion years. And in our own galaxy, the sun produces nuclear explosions called solar flares, each equivalent to about 2.5 million nuclear bombs. The reason we hardly feel any of these explosions (apart from a few instances of radio-communication disturbances) is that we are protected by the Earth’s atmosphere.
Occasionally we can get a glimpse of the sun’s nuclear activity in the form of the aurora borealis near the Earth’s poles: the vibrant colors painting the night sky are actually the remnants of nuclear explosions that succeeded in temporarily warping the shape of the Earth’s atmosphere. Make no mistake – those beautiful remnants would have been part of an extreme doomsday scenario without the atmosphere’s protection.
Astronauts venturing outside the Earth’s protective atmosphere (farther than the International Space Station, which is near its outskirts) thus risk coming into contact with large amounts of radiation. And the longer the mission, the higher the chance of being exposed to the radiation of a gamma-ray burst or solar flare. Thus NASA’s next big ambition – a manned mission to Mars – calls for enhanced radiation protection for astronauts.
The AstroRad, StemRad’s radiation vest for astronauts, is being showcased by NASA in this week’s convention commemorating the Apollo moon landing as the radiation protection solution for astronauts venturing into deep space. The AstroRad envelopes the most vulnerable tissue in the body with radiation shielding. The technology, to protect astronauts fulfilling humankind’s most noble aspirations, was adapted from the technology designed to protect first responders and civilians during humankind’s darkest radiation scenarios. Soon medical teams will also be provided with StemRad’s radiation shielding technology so that they can perform medical procedures involving radiation more safely. What began as StemRad’s mission to protect first responders in the worst of times has evolved into a technology that is also set to be used in the best of times and the day-to-day. We like that trend.