Compared to ionizing radiation exposures on Earth, astronauts are exposed to potentially higher levels of radiation (mainly protons, HZE particles and neutrons) from galactic cosmic sources, periodic solar flares and trapped radiation belts surrounding our planet. NASA is concerned about the acute and long-term health effects of such exposures to crews during long-term manned space flight. Because of the unique nature of space radiation, it is relatively difficult to reduce exposure by shielding and impossible to eliminate entirely. Efforts to assess radiation risks in space have been further complicated by considerable unknowns regarding the combined biological effects of these radiations and the difficulty in reproducing them in a controlled environment on Earth.
NASA funded investigators at the Center are examining the effects of space radiation on blood vessel formation and function, brain function, cataractogenesis, and the basic cellular, biochemical and genetic determinants underlying the body’s physiological responses after such exposures.