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Thursday, February 29, 2024

NASA. The Orion ship returns to Earth, along with the human phantoms of Helha and the Zohar. They studied the effect of cosmic rays on humans

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The Orion spacecraft of the Artemis I mission is scheduled to land in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday. Together with him, two human phantoms placed in a capsule will return to Earth. Helga and Zohar, as they were called, studied the effect of cosmic rays on the human body. The data they collect will help ensure the safety of future explorers of distant space. The Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences is involved in the experiment.

The Orion spacecraft was launched on a trip around the moon in the middle of last month by the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. This is how the Artemis I mission began, which is one of the steps to the return of man to the Silver Globe. On Sunday, the capsule is scheduled to return to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday after 9 o’clock NASA reported that Orion was more than 236,000 kilometers above our planet. The object is moving at a speed of 4163 kilometers per hour.

On November 25, Orion made its closest flyby of the lunar surface.

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Human phantoms studied cosmic rays

Together with the spacecraft, two phantoms placed inside Orion will land on Earth as part of the MARE (MATROSHKA AstroRad Radiation Experiment) experiment. The main objective of the Artemis I mission was to test the Orion manned spacecraft in an uncrewed circumlunar flight, with phantoms on board. The lack of passengers in the first stage of the Artemis program was decided to be used to verify modern knowledge about the impact of cosmic radiation on the human body.

The phantoms were named Helga and Zohar, each weighing 39 kilograms. The second of them was fitted with AstroRad protective armor, manufactured by the Israeli company StemRad. The phantoms are equipped with numerous cosmic ray detectors.

At the invitation of the German Space Center (DLR) in Cologne, the coordinator of the MARE project, the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ PAN) participates in the experiment Krakow. As the Polish institute emphasizes in its communication, among the numerous threats lurking for astronauts undertaking long-distance space travel, the most serious and at the same time the most difficult to eliminate is exposure to harmful doses of cosmic radiation.

As explained by prof. dr hab. Paweł Bilski (IFJ PAN), this experiment is “a continuation of a series of experiments carried out on the International Space Station in 2004-2009 as part of the MATROSHKA project, in which we also participated”. “Back then, data on radiation doses were necessarily collected in low Earth orbit. Now, thanks to the American Artemis I mission, human phantoms stuffed with radiation detectors for the first time went beyond the protective range of not only the Earth’s atmosphere, but also the magnetosphere” – he explains.

Phantoms of Helga and ZoharNASA/Frank Michaux

“Reading is reliable and relatively simple, albeit non-trivial”

In order to obtain information on the doses of cosmic radiation absorbed by individual parts of the human body, four to six small passive lithium fluoride radiation detectors were placed in the entire volume of the phantoms every three centimeters. In addition, active silicon detectors have been installed in the places of the most important organs. In total, over ten thousand passive and 34 active detectors have been installed in both phantoms, informs IFJ PAN.

“The contribution of our institute to the MARE experiment is primarily 276 passive thermoluminescent detectors in the ZOHAR phantom and further 288 detectors in 12 measurement packages on the surface of both phantoms” – points out Prof. Bilski. He adds that “these detectors are in the form of thin, white pellets with a diameter of several millimeters.” The main material used for the production of IFJ PAN detectors is lithium fluoride enriched with carefully selected admixtures.

It was explained that the reading of the radiation dose recorded by the lithium fluoride detector is possible due to the phenomenon of thermoluminescence. In the laboratory, individual detectors are gradually heated to a temperature of several hundred degrees Celsius. The energy supplied causes electrons to start jumping out of successive metastable energy traps. Some of them quickly recombine, which is accompanied by the emission of photons. As a result, there is a glow, which physicists call thermoluminescence.

As described by Prof. Bilski, “our lithium fluoride detectors work in such a way that the amount of light emitted when they are heated is proportional to the dose deposited by the cosmic ray particles that interact with the material.” He points out that “reading information is therefore reliable and relatively simple, although not trivial.” He explains that “different traps in the material have different properties and empty at different temperatures.”

The detectors are to return to the Krakow institute

The measurements under the MARE experiment are primarily intended to verify the current knowledge about the impact of cosmic radiation on the human body. The priority is to reduce the risks to astronauts to a minimum, but the research also has a purely practical dimension. The point is that excessively restrictive safety standards do not limit human activity in the far distance space – emphasizes IFJ PAN.

If the return of the Orion spacecraft of the Artemis I mission is successful, the detectors from the Zohar and Helga phantoms will soon return to the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences to read the data. Preliminary results on the doses of cosmic radiation recorded by them will be presented by the international team of the MARE experiment during the first months of next year.

Back to the Moon Adam Ziemienowicz/PAP

A crewed flight in the Orion capsule is scheduled for the Artemis II mission in two years. Astronauts are to fly around our natural satellite. Then, in 2025, the Artemis III mission is scheduled to land on the lunar surface.

Main photo source: NASA/Frank Michaux



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