Next stop Mars, with Israeli radiation protection

Together with Lockheed-Martin, StemRad is developing an enhanced version of its protective belt

A first responder wears a StemRad belt (Screenshot)
A first responder wears a StemRad belt (Screenshot)

Israeli technology that can protect first responders from deadly gamma radiation – the kind of radiation emitted by nuclear bombs – may one day protect astronauts who explore deep space from the high levels of radiation they are likely to encounter.

Israel’s StemRad is working with US defense giant Lockheed-Martin to develop a version of its gamma-ray shielding vest for use in deep-space missions, the companies announced this week.

“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.”

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor building Orion, NASA’s next-generation spacecraft designed to transport humans to destinations beyond low Earth orbit and bring them safely home. Designed for the space missions of tomorrow, Orion will, among other things, provide technology against the effects of deep-space radiation, considered one of the biggest threats and roadblocks to human exploration of the solar system beyond the moon.

Key to the effort to protect against such radiation is the solution by StemRad, which has a product that protects first responders against gamma radiation generated by, among other things, nuclear explosions. Cleverly designed to allow freedom of movement, the StemRad 360 Gamma belt is not a full-body suit that makes it difficult to maneuver and freely explore – a key requirement for rescue workers.

Exposure to gamma radiation results in radiation sickness, the accelerated destruction of the blood cells and the inability of the body to replenish them, due to the damage sustained to bone marrow, which needed to generate new cells. Fifty percent of the body’s bone marrow is located in the groin and midsection areas of the body – and that is exactly the part of the body the StemRad belt protects, ensuring that rescue workers are protected against the effects of radiation sickness, but are able to maintain freedom of movement needed to assist others.

The company’s technology got a tribute from the Japanese ambassador to Israel, who said that “StemRad has answered the challenge of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.” Ambassador H.E. Hideo Sato did not reveal the specifics of StemRad’s activities in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, perhaps the worst, and long-lasting, effect of those events, but StemRad has received numerous awards and accolades ijn Japan for its work there.

Now that radiation on earth has been “conquered,” it’s time to move into outer space – and the new project with LM will do just that, officials in both companies said. The joint project won the support of a bilateral research committee and will be supported by grants from Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency of Florida and MATIMOP, the executive agency of the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Economy Ministry of Israel.

“We are excited to be collaborating with Lockheed Martin on this important project,” said Dr. Oren Milstein, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of StemRad. “Our team possesses advanced capabilities in the areas of radiation biology and innovative shielding strategies, and we will now be applying those skills to the unique challenges in human space exploration.”

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