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Human Research Program

Space Radiation Risk Assessment

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

The Risk Assessment Project at Johnson Space Center is responsible for the integration of results from NASA space radiobiology research into computational models used for astronaut radiation risk assessments. The purpose of the Project is fourfold: (1) evaluate the extent to which ongoing research leads to reduction in the uncertainty of risk assessments and provide, as a metric of program progress, the number of days in space during which the radiation exposure of astronauts remains below NASA limits within a 95% confidence interval (“safe days in space”); (2) perform mission planning studies to predict the number of safe days for any mission; (3) assess the radiation risk to astronauts for ongoing missions in real time; and, (4) provide recommendations for research directions most likely to reduce risk or improve the accuracy of risk predictions.

The four categories of risks from radiation in space are defined by the NASA Bioastronautics Roadmap (BR). They are: 1) Carcinogenesis, 2) Acute and late effects to the Central Nervous System (CNS), 3) Degenerative Tissue Effects such as heart disease and cataracts, and 4) Acute Radiation risks. The number of safe days currently predicted for an astronaut’s career is less than required by mission planning, due to the large uncertainties in risk prediction. In particular, a projection uncertainty below + or - 50% is the goal for the 1000-day Mars mission because the high level of risk will require high precision risk evaluations. The current approach used to project risk is based on epidemiology data and on phenomenological models used to derive risk prediction from them. This approach cannot lead to improvements in the accuracy of risk prediction beyond a factor of approximately 2. New approaches using molecular biology and genetics are the only viable ones for achieving the level of accuracy required by space exploration and a robust program to obtain the required data is supported by the Space Radiation Program. However, how to incorporate these data into risk prediction and assessment models is not well understood. This Project Plan describes the approaches that will be used to develop models of risk assessment based on mechanistic space radiobiology research funded by the Space Radiation Program, leading to incremental uncertainty reduction based on new experimental data, and to the development of application software to be used in the NASA operational radiation protection program. To accomplish these goals, we will establish new molecular based models of risk. The molecular pathways that are the hallmarks of genomic instability and cancer, and the perturbation of these pathways by radiation will be described using systems biology approaches and Monte-Carlo simulation. We will develop descriptive models of such pathways utilizing track structure models of biomolecular damage, and deterministic and stochastic kinetic models of dominant molecular pathways causative of BR radiation risks. These simulations will make maximum use of results from mechanistic space radiobiology, and will replace traditional hazard functions and their inherent uncertainties due to reliance on epidemiological or phenomenological approaches.

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