The vests are being made with specific body types in mind, an issue that recently came to light when two female astronauts attempted a joint spacewalk. The vests are being made with specific body types in mind, an issue that recently came to light when two female astronauts attempted a joint spacewalk. The vests are being made with specific body types in mind, an issue that recently came to light when two female astronauts attempted a joint spacewalk. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Israeli-made vest headed to International Space Station

New tech will protect astronauts from harmful radiation.

If we learned anything watching Matt Damon try to survive on the Red Planet in "The Martian" movie, it's that staying safe in deep space is no easy task. Humans require constant protection from the brutal elements outside our own atmosphere. For starters, the amount of radiation a person would be exposed to on a round trip to Mars would be about 60,000 times more than someone on Earth.

An Israeli startup has taken the first step to making such a journey a reality. The Tel Aviv-based StemRad, inspired by nuclear disasters like Chernobyl, invented a specialized vest that can keep humans safe from radiation. Dubbed the AstroRad, it can protect bone marrow and organs that are particularly sensitive to the development of cancer due to chronic exposure to radiation. The vest will have its first real test when it's launched into space this weekend and sent for testing aboard the International Space Station. This will mark the first time that the Israeli flag will be on the space station.

"Israeli space technology is known as innovative, reflecting 'out of the box' thinking," said Israel's Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis. "We are proud to be pioneer partners in one of humanity's most exciting experiments in the coming years."

Dr. Oren Milstein hatched the idea for the vest in 2011 when he was in grad school at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science. It was shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, and he wanted to find a way to help in case of such events in the future. In the ensuing years, StemRad teamed up with Maryland-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the Israel Space Agency, the German Space Center and NASA to bring the vest to fruition. "It's been an international collaboration," he said at a press conference on Friday.

The vest will be part of 8,200 pounds of research, crew supplies, and hardware that will be on board a commercial resupply mission for the space station. The rocket is expected to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 9:59 a.m. EST and will be broadcast live on NASA's YouTube channel.

A spacecraft like this one will launch scientific instruments and crew supplies this weekend. A spacecraft like this one will launch scientific instruments and crew supplies this weekend. (Photo: Bill Ingalls / NASA)

While on board the International Space Station, the vest will go through a series of ergonomic experiments. Astronauts will wear the vest while doing their daily tasks – exercising, moving cargo, conducting research. Back on terra firma, engineers at StemRad will watch videos sent back from the astronauts and examine the data on the form, fit and function of the vest.

If all goes as planned, the vest will be sent back to space again next year to test its ability to block out harmful rays in an actual radiation environment. Together, these two experiments should provide the necessary information to ensure that the vest is ready for actual use. Ultimately, the goal is for astronauts to wear the AstroRad on future manned missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as on Earth for firefighters and first responders in nuclear and high radiation events.

This will be the second time this year an Israeli startup has sent an item to the space station. Earlier this fall, Aleph Farms used cow cells and a 3D printer to debut the first-ever lab-grown piece of meat in space.

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Israeli-made vest headed to International Space Station
New tech from StemRad will protect astronauts from harmful radiation.