The Athena team utilizes high-performance multi-core computers (e.g., supercomputers) and sophisticated numerical techniques to design physiologic-equivalent ground-based analogs of the organ dose distribution incurred by astronauts. The results of this research will be the development a ground-based space radiation analog that exposes each major organ and tissue in a mammalian model to values of absorbed dose and radiation quality that correspond to those in astronauts. A physiological scalable analog that can simulate the non-homogenous space radiation environment in a laboratory setting.
The technology developed by Athena will include an apparatus to generate the radiation field, animal immobilization, and other components that utilize existing ground-based space irradiation facilities with no changes to the beam line infrastructure. This will enable NASA and its international and commercial partners real time observation of biological effects and greater understanding of the health risks associated with spaceflight.
Figure: Shown above are preliminary results from Monte Carlo simulation on CT scans of a human male (right) and a mouse (left). The color contrast shows the organ dose to major systems following a radiation exposure that mimics the environment measured on International Space Station. Higher radiation doses are indicated by orange. Lower radiation doses are shown in green/grey shades. This clearly demonstrates that the spatial dose distribution in the mouse model that is typically used for space radiobiology experiments do not correspond to those that would be incurred by astronauts. This not only hampers translation of data obtained from animal models to humans, but also limits the the understanding of the effects GCR on humans’ biology, and the development of effective radiation countermeasures.