Operational Challenges in Human Space Exploration: Radiation Protection and Risk Mitigation Strategies
Dr. Esther Beltran
Human space exploration missions beyond near Earth orbit cannot occur without a validated approach to addressing crew safety risks due to radiation. This requires careful characterization of the space environment, experimental validation of radiation protection methods, the ability to predict real-time radiation dose and monitor crew exposure. The goal is to dynamically integrate all the information in a systematic fashion that will ease crew operations, facilitate and enhance space missions towards their accomplishment and success.
Because currently NASA is considering deep space destinations for future human space exploration missions, a more comprehensive description of the possible target space destination conditions is highly recommended and desirable. Highly desirable is also determining the availability of in situ resource utilization (ISRU) all of which helps create methods for mitigating human risks.
These deep space destinations have their surfaces constantly bombarded by radiation from solar wind, galactic cosmic radiation (GCRs), spontaneous solar events (SPEs), plus undergo high velocity micrometeorite impacts. The most damaging type of radiation is ionizing radiation, which is known to produce DNA damage. Ionizing radiation is linked to carcinogenesis, tissue and organ degenerative disorders (cardiovascular and neurodegenerative), inflammatory responses, mutagenic, teratogenic effects, among others.
Since the constant radiation assault to humans during space exploration missions poses a serious threat to human life, these threats must be understood, quantified, and mitigated. All these radiation threats could be significantly reduced by developing effective countermeasures. One of the challenges for the development of effective countermeasure systems for radiation is the fact that ionizing radiation creates the inelastic scattering of secondary low-energy electrons (LEEs), which contribute significantly to radiation damage of materials and living cells.
At REVEALS, Dr. Beltran is studying novel composites, their integration of radiation effective shielding materials by using novel polymers that could minimize or eliminate the LEEs effect. At the same time priorities for radiation protection should include specific distribution of these polymers according to radiation organ sensitivity and operational requirements. In addition to the new polymer composites, Dr. Beltran is studying the best operational protocol strategies by adding active real-time dosimeters detectors. These dosimeters are created by using nano-particles and 2D metamaterials to generate effective warning systems which will significantly increase efficiency of risk mitigation strategies thus enhancing crew safety. These materials and dosimetry systems will be integrated into spacesuits, life support systems, mobility units to enhance Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) safety, and new surface exploration concepts as well.
Dr. Esther Beltran is a medical doctor trained in the surgical specialties in Barcelona, Catalonia and in Oslo, Norway, Europe. She later blended her interest in aerospace obtaining a Master degree in Aerospace Sciences from the University of North Dakota, and a Doctoral degree in Aerospace Medicine- Occupational Medicine from at the University of Texas-Houston Medical Center, US.
She became one of the medical doctors for the development of Spacewalk protocols for the construction of the International Space Station at NASA-Johnson Space Center (JSC). During her stay at NASA-JSC she was awarded two Amelia Earhart fellowships from Zonta International Foundation in 1996 and 1997.
Dr. Beltran is an expert on humans living and working in extreme environments. She is also a diving doctor, certified by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Diving Medicine and Hyperbaric Medicine. Dr. Beltran has served as the medical officer for underwater archaeological expeditions with Texas A & M University / National Geographic. She has also participated in different International Advisory boards for World Health Organization (WHO), specifically on extreme environments and difficult working conditions.
She currently serves at UCF-Florida Space Institute as NASA- Deputy Director- SSERVI/REVEALS and Chief Scientist for Human Space Exploration. Her team has been awarded the NASA SSERVI to work on Radiation and Radiation Protection.
She also works as a Flight Surgeon providing training to fixed wing and helicopter military pilots and special operations teams around the world.
She also enjoys mentoring/coaching young and college professional women. She is the author of “Fly High, Reach the Sky” and has dedicated part of the proceeds to fund the Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship. An annual award dedicated to women pursuing Ph.D./doctoral degrees in aerospace-related sciences and engineering. Today, women still remain a distinct minority in science and engineering, representing approximately only 10 percent of professionals in these fields.