Stemrad Stemrad Stemrad (Photo: Stemrad)

This is what we'll wear when we go to Mars

A new vest could protect against space's harmful radiation.

It seems like only a matter of time until we get to Mars, or at least try. Luminaries such as Buzz Aldrin have made no secret of their desire to do so, entire summits are being held to discuss the matter, and NASA has released a report outlining how it plans to make it a reality.

But among the many obstacles to accomplishing this feat is the acute danger to the human body presented by space exploration. For example, the amount of radiation a human would be exposed to on a round trip to Mars would be about 60,000 times more than someone on Earth.

And Mars itself doesn't have any protection from radiation, particles from the sun having stripped away its atmosphere. The odds of getting cancer, and quickly, would be very high.

Fortunately this issue is being addressed by Israeli company StemRad who, in partnership with American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, is working to produce a vest that would keep astronauts healthy and safe during their interplanetary adventures.

StemradStemrad's vest helps protect emergency workers from radiation exposure. (Photo: Stemrad)

The AstroRad, as it is called, is based on the concept of StemRad's 360 Gamma, a first-of-its-kind wearable vest that, once available on the market, will protect first-responders and emergency rescue workers from dangerous radiation.

Previously, conventional wisdom was to create full-body shielding solutions, but because they are made with thin layers of material to allow for mobility, they are only effective in blocking alpha and beta radiation, not highly penetrating gamma radiation.

What StemRad founders Dr. Oren Milstein and David Levitt did was create a solution that effectively blocked gamma radiation while still allowing for mobility. They did this by optimizing protection of the wearer’s midsection, where 50% of the body's bone marrow is located.

For the body to recover from the effects of radiation, biological regenerative processes must take place after the exposure to radiation. The human tissue with the most regenerative potential? Bone marrow.

While Milstein and Levitt said its vest does not protect all of the body's bone marrow, they say that it can protect 2.5% of it, the minimal amount required to allow for recovery post-irradiation.

The company’s technology has already earned raves from H.E. Hideo Sato, the Japanese ambassador to Israel, who said “StemRad has answered the challenge of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami" that unleashed a radioactive calamity on parts of his country; and Nobel laureates Roger D. Kornberg and Michael Levitt were so impressed by the belt's capabilities that they signed on to the company's scientific advisory board.

These notable endorsements led Lockheed Martin to seek out StemRad as it pushed forward with Orion, the next-generation spacecraft designed to transport humans to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit that NASA contracted them to complete. StemRad's technology, developed in Israel, offered the most viable option to ensure humans on the spacecraft return home safely.

"We're going to take our extensive knowledge of human spaceflight, apply our nano-materials engineering expertise, and working closely with StemRad evaluate the viability for this type of radiation shielding in deep space," said Randy Sweet, Lockheed Martin business development director for the civil space line of business.

"The Lockheed Martin team believes this could result in an innovative solution to enhance crew safety on the journey to Mars."

The Stemrad 360 vest is the first such safety device to protect against gamma rays.The Stemrad 360 vest is the first such safety device to protect against gamma rays. (Photo: Stemrad)

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This is what we'll wear when we go to Mars
A new vest could protect against space's harmful radiation.