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Medical Implications of Space Radiation Exposure Due to Low-Altitude Polar Orbits

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INTRODUCTION: Space radiation research has progressed rapidly in recent years, but there remain large uncertainties in predicting and extrapolating biological responses to humans. Exposure to cosmic radiation and solar particle events (SPEs) may pose a critical health risk to future spaceflight crews and can have a serious impact on all biomedical aspects of space exploration. The relatively minimal shielding of the cancelled 1960s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program’s space vehicle and the high inclination polar orbits would have left the crew susceptible to high exposures of cosmic radiation and high dose-rate SPEs that are mostly unpredictable in frequency and intensity.

METHODS: In this study, we have modeled the nominal and off-nominal radiation environment that a MOL-like spacecraft vehicle would be exposed to during a 30-d mission using high performance, multicore computers.

RESULTS: Projected doses from a historically large SPE (e.g., the August 1972 solar event) have been analyzed in the context of the MOL orbit profile, providing an opportunity to study its impact to crew health and subsequent contingencies.

DISCUSSION: It is reasonable to presume that future commercial, government, and military spaceflight missions in low-Earth orbit (LEO) will have vehicles with similar shielding and orbital profiles. Studying the impact of cosmic radiation to the mission’s operational integrity and the health of MOL crewmembers provides an excellent surrogate and case-study for future commercial and military spaceflight missions.

Chancellor JC, Auñon-Chancellor SM, Charles J. Medical implications of space radiation exposure due to low-altitude polar orbits. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2018; 89(1):3–8.
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Keywords: Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL); acute radiation; low Earth orbit; prodromal; space radiation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2018

More about this publication?
  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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