Helga and Zohar are a part of the Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE), which aims to assess the effects of space radiation on astronauts’ bodies. The manikins are made from “materials that mimic the human bones, soft tissues and organs of an adult woman,” according to a statement from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which devised and leads MARE. Their 10,000 passive sensors and 34 active radiation detectors will collect data as the manikins take a six-week trip around the Moon.
Zohar will be equipped with a radiation protection vest developed by StemRad, an industrial partner of the Israel Space Agency (ISA). Discrepancies between Zohar’s sensor data and Helga’s will provide key insights into the radiation-related health risks associated with spaceflight. Should the vest—called AstroRad—prove useful, it may be used to protect actual human astronauts from radiation exposure during Artemis II and other future missions.
Why does it matter that the manikins are “female,” you ask? Radiation has been found to carry more of an impact on female bodies (or those considered female at birth) than male bodies, resulting in an increased risk of ovarian or breast cancer. Recent data also suggests the radiation from a “typical Mars mission” can cause astronauts with female reproductive systems to lose up to half of their ovarian reserve, which affects reproduction and may result in the early onset of menopause. If NASA is really committed to sending female astronauts to the Moon by 2025 (as it’s previously promised promised), it’s in the agency’s best interest to find out how to not ruin said astronauts’ bodies by doing so.
The pair will be accompanied by a third, unnamed manikin introduced last year, also in anticipation of Artemis II. The third manikin will sit in the commander’s seat in a recumbent position (used to maintain blood flow to astronauts’ heads) and gather data about flight vibrations and acceleration. This information will be used both to ensure astronauts’ safety during the Artemis II mission and to improve Orion crew simulations.
“With MARE, the largest radiation experiment ever to be flown beyond low Earth orbit, we are looking to find out exactly how radiation levels affect female astronauts over the course of an entire flight to the Moon, and which protective measures might help to counteract this ,” said Thomas Berger of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in the statement. “The aim is to ensure that everything runs smoothly later at the Kennedy Space Center.”
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