Woman in spacecraft simulator (© Amir Cohen/Reuters)
A woman in a spacecraft simulator wears a prototype vest designed to prevent certain types of space radiation from reaching vital organs. (© Amir Cohen/Reuters)

In deep space, astronauts need a lot more than sunscreen to protect against dangerous radiation. That’s why Lockheed Martin Corporation of the U.S. and Israeli company StemRad Ltd. are making a new suit to limit astronauts’ exposure.

Radiation is energy, emitted in speeding particles, waves and rays. It can damage or destroy cells and DNA. Near Earth, the planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere act as a shield against most dangerous types of radiation.

Man gesturing in front of mannequin (© Amir Cohen/Reuters)
Oren Milstein of StemRad displays radiation vests. (© Amir Cohen/Reuters)

But exposure to radiation in space is quite different than exposure to radiation on Earth, says Tony Slaba of NASA, the U.S. space agency.

For instance, on missions to Mars, astronauts can be slammed by storms of high-energy particles ejected by the sun. The storms present one of the biggest challenges facing humans on long-distance exploration missions. (NASA plans to return to the moon and go to Mars.)

Enter the AstroRad, a vest from Tel Aviv-based StemRad. Working with Lockheed Martin, the company developed a multi-layered garment to combat this type of space radiation.

Each vest is tailored to an astronaut’s body type, with extra shielding for critical organs.

Flying to the moon

Artist's conception of spacecraft flying over Earth (© NASA)
AstroRad vests are set to launch in 2019 or 2020. (NASA)

NASA and the Israel Space Agency signed an agreement in April for the use of the AstroRad radiation-protection vest.

When NASA’s new Orion spacecraft launches atop the most powerful rocket humans have ever built in 2019 or 2020, the AstroRad will protect one of two mannequins. Scientists will then compare data from the shielded and unshielded mannequins.

The vest’s flexibility will be tested further on upcoming missions to the International Space Station.

“We are proud to be working with NASA, Lockheed Martin and our other partners in providing a critical piece of safety equipment, helping to usher in an era of deep-space exploration,” said Oren Milstein, founder and chief executive of StemRad.