This protection, which looks like a real bulletproof vest, was designed to explore deep space, towards the Moon and then Mars, in order to protect crews from cosmic radiation.
Space is a dangerous and hostile environment. To explore the Solar System, radiation is an obvious obstacle. Space agencies know this very well. To reduce the effects of this radiation on astronauts when they travel to the Moon and then to Mars, several strategies are being studied and tested to preserve the organisms.
A surprising prototype will soon return to Earth. In recent months, NASA has organized a test of an anti-radiation shield. This protection is sent back to Earth on the night of January 9 to 10, when a SpaceX cargo ship leaves the International Space Station (ISS). The capsule will be fished on the 11th off the coast of Florida.
This “outfit” may be familiar to you. No wonder: this is a project mentioned as early as 2017, with the aim of protecting crews from certain unpredictable events, such as a solar explosion that projects particles capable of not only damaging electronic equipment – such as satellites or a station -, but also harm astronauts.
A test to test the comfort and usability of the harness in weightlessness
It is above all a question of evaluating the comfort of the prototype: “ Crew members wore the Astrorad vest while performing their daily tasks and provided feedback on the ease of donning, fit and feel of the vest, as well as the range of motion possible when wearing it. »
The objective was therefore not to test the armor against radiation, but rather to see if it is bearable, without interfering with an astronaut’s daily life – whether it be his daily tasks, his meals, his sleep or various operations such as loading and unload loads. Too bulky radiation protection would be useless.
In appearance, the Astrorad (portmanteau word resulting from the contraction between astronaut and radiation) resembles a kind of bulletproof vest: it covers the throat to the lower abdomen, but also the sides. The back is similarly covered, from the neck to the buttocks. The arms, head and lower body are left “in the open air”.
The trunk concentrates many vital organs whose injuries caused by radiation can permanently compromise the vital prognosis, with the appearance of cancers. The area to be protected also includes tissues and concentrations of specific radiation-sensitive stem cells, specifies a presentation sheet on the NASA website.
The experience aboard the International Space Station comes closest to what crews will experience on trips to the Moon and Mars. Astronauts commented widely on the jacket’s comfort and wearability. These returns will now be used by the Israeli company StemRad to improve the chest.
The breastplate, whose development also involves the American company Lockheed Martin and the German space agency DLR, was supposed to be tested initially in 2018 during a manned trip around the Moon. But the vagaries of the Artemis program and the Astrorad’s own pace of development delayed the test by four years, which ended up taking place on the ISS.
As the Artemis 2 mission is not planned before 2024, we could see it in a new version by then – and thus be tested during a manned trip around the Moon. It is in fact on this occasion that a NASA crew must approach the satellite for the first time since 1972. It was then that the Apollo 17 mission was coming to an end.
In the long term, the jacket, if it gives full satisfaction, could equip the ISS, as well as the future orbital space station around the Moon. It is also a garment that astronauts can wear during lunar transit, but also on the ground inside a base. And this armor can also be mobilized when the conquest of Mars occurs, after 2030-2040.