The limit is significantly exceeded
When people fly into space, they get high-energy radiation. Radiation biologist Christine Hellweg explains what the consequences can be - and where there are still major knowledge gaps.
Radiation in space is mostly ionizing, so it creates ions when it hits matter. This makes them very harmful to he alth. On long space missions, such as to Mars, this can become a problem for the crew. Christine Elisabeth Hellweg heads the Radiation Biology department at the Institute for Aerospace Medicine at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). In the interview she talks about space radiation, the associated medical risks and radiation protection.
Spektrum: Ms. Hellweg, how unhe althy is it to fly into space?
Hellweg: We know that increased exposure to radiation can cause clouding of the lens in the eye. It is also likely to increase the risk of developing cancer later. Experiments with rodents carried out in the USA also suggest another possible long-term effect: the high-energy heavy atomic nuclei whizzing around in space cause damage to their brains. Astronauts could suffer from permanent cognitive impairments, which fortunately did not occur with the previous residents of the International Space Station. In general, there is a lack of long-term studies on the he alth consequences of space travel.
What is the radiation dose for a stay on the ISS for several months?
That depends, among other things, on the flight altitude of the ISS – it varies between 320 and 430 kilometers – and solar activity. Interestingly, even within the space station, radiation exposure can vary by as much as 50 percent, depending on how much shielding there is between the astronauts and the surrounding space.