Space Radiation:

Health Risks for the Astronaut Corps


Scientists as well as astronauts have discovered that space really is dangerous. It’s not the ride into space; rockets are pretty reliable now. And it’s not meteors shooting through space, either. It’s just being there, sitting around on a space station, that might be the most dangerous. It’s the radiation that can kill you, give you heart disease, or even cancer years later.

In this very engaging presentation, Dr. S. Robin Elgart provides a brief description of the space radiation environment, as well as a summary of a study assessing excess cardiovascular disease or cancer mortality in early NASA astronauts.

Dr. Elgart is the Space Radiation Element Scientist in NASA’s Human Research Program at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. Her primary objective is to develop and execute a robust applied research strategy to meet the agency’s goal to safely put the first woman on the Moon and the first humans on Mars. Her team seeks to learn how space radiation can affect health outcomes. This work not only helps NASA understand what astronauts may face, but also helps her team develop strategies to protect astronauts throughout their careers and into their retirement.

As the daughter of two biologists, she grew up in an environment made for a budding scientist. “As a kid, I learned about pollination and plant biology in our veggie garden, tried to dig up dinosaur bones in the backyard, and practiced how to craft evidence-based arguments over dinner table discussions,” Elgart recalled. She took this love of science to college and graduate school, earning her Ph.D. in biomedical physics from the University of California, Los Angeles.


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