Two mannequins designed to represent female bodies will measure radiation exposure later this year on NASA’s Artemis I mission, in preparation for the first woman to land on the moon.
It’s a small step for dummies, a big step for women. Later this year, NASA’s Artemis I mission will launch two test dummies into space with simulated female bodies. For example, NASA can study how radiation affects women in space.
NASA is aiming to send the first female astronaut to the moon as part of its planned series of Artemis spaceflights. The first mission, Artemis I, will be a test flight of the uncrewed Orion spacecraft. It will fly to the Moon and return to Earth in four to six weeks.
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Female organs such as the breasts and ovaries are particularly sensitive to radiation. Therefore, women are more at risk than men of developing cancer. Space is continually riddled with powerful radiation, but all previous radiation studies have been conducted on test dummies that represent humans, such as the Matryoshka dummy that visited the International Space Station in 2004. The effects of radiation on humans Non-male astronauts, including women and trans men, are less well known.
Helga and Zohar
Space biophysicist Thomas Berger from the German Aerospace Center in Cologne and her colleagues have designed dolls that mimic female torsos and the organs they contain. The test dummies, called Helga and Zohar, have radiation sensors in vulnerable places, such as organs. Zohar will wear a radiation-blocking vest built by the Israeli space agency ISA, while Helga will not wear a vest.
“The Artemis I mission is the first mission to return to the moon, so in that sense, it’s the perfect mission for this experiment,” says Berger. “You get basic data on the radiation exposure a woman receives when she flies in a spacecraft built for humans.
Have a good trip
The two dummies each contain 5600 passive radiation sensors, small crystals that measure the total radiation dose during the mission. They also contain dozens of battery-powered sensors, to record over time the radiation felt at certain points in the journey. Researchers can then create a 3D image of the radiation exposure for each doll. This way they can see which parts of the female body might be particularly vulnerable.
“While there may be a gender difference in an experience, it’s important to take gender-specific measurements for both males and females,” says space expert Libby Jackson of the British Space Agency. “Most of the astronauts who have been in space are men. Female astronauts are less well represented, and they are also less well represented in the sham experiments that have been done.
Berger and his team hope to see how cosmic microwave background radiation and solar radiation can affect astronauts. The latter depends on the activity of the sun during the voyage of Artemis I. The Van Allen radiation belt traps ionizing particles similar to those emitted by the sun. Even though the sun doesn’t produce large solar flares in flight, Berger says, exiting and re-entering the Van Allen radiation belts around Earth can mimic the effects of a solar flare.
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