Protecting Astronauts from Space Radiation

November 15th, 2012 by

The complexities of traveling to and working in space present challenges to astronauts that NASA scientists and engineers have been working on for more than 43 years ago. One of the challenges outside Earth’s protective atmosphere and magnetic field is space radiation. Sending astronauts farther into our solar system than ever before will require advanced instruments designed for monitoring and detecting radiation in space vehicles and habitats. NASA is tackling this problem with a renewed focus on understanding radiation in space environments. The Advanced Neutron Spectrometer (ANS) is an instrument designed to do just this. By monitoring neutrons, the researchers aims to build a new tool to protect astronauts as they explore new destinations. The ANS can be used to detect the levels of radiation in the spacecraft or habitat so that astronauts can employ techniques to minimize their exposure. Neutrons are difficult to detect because they are electrically neutral particles and pass through most detector systems without detection. The ANS uses a new instrument design that can significantly improve the reliability of identifying neutrons in the mixed radiation field found in deep space. This instrument design uses the gate and capture technique that slows down the neutrons and then “captures” them in an isotope of Lithium. The ANS uses special glass fibers loaded with Lithium to absorb the slowed neutrons and produce a small flash of light unique to the neutron capture process. The ANS uses custom electronics to recognize and trigger on the distinct neutron capture signal, which is then processed and analyzed to determine the radiation

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