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We’re sending these high-tech crash test dummies around the moon to be sure humans will make it

By Elizabeth Rayne
phantom dummy

While one dummy is already traversing the galaxy in Elon Musk’s now-beat-up Tesla roadster, more are headed for space soon — but these dummies are meant for more than just looking Instagrammable in a luxury car.

“Phantom” dummies are going to take off in an uncrewed Orion spacecraft as part of the Artemis 1 lunar mission in 2020. These “tissue-equivalent radiation phantoms,” as NASA calls them, are both female, and one will be wearing the radiation-blocking polyethylene AstroRad vest. The vest is a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and Israeli startup StemRad that was recently launched to the ISS for ergonomic testing. Now known as the Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE), this is the ultimate test for how women’s bodies will be affected on the journey to the Moon.

“We chose female phantoms because the number of women astronauts is increasing, and also because the female body is typically more vulnerable to radiation,” Thomas Berger, lead MARE scientist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), said in an ESA statement.

Because the next man — but first woman — are expected to land on the Moon in 2024 if NASA gets the mission together by then, it is important to create tech that shields female organs which are especially susceptible to the effects of space radiation.

phantom dummy

Anatomically correct dummies Helga and Zohar are each made up of 38 slices of plastics that mimic various human tissues, such as lungs, soft tissue and bone. Both are equipped with 5,600 sensors and 16 detectors that will measure how much radiation hits the skin and internal organs. They aren’t too different from the dummies used by hospitals to gauge how much radiation is safe for cancer treatments.

ISS astronauts are already exposed to 250 times more radiation than they would be on the surface, and that exposure could be up to 700 times higher than surface radiation outside our planet’s magnetic field. Women’s bodies are even more susceptible to killer radiation than men’s. The Astrorad vest is designed to be much thicker around the most vulnerable areas, including the breasts and ovaries for women, in addition to the stomach, lungs, intestines, and bone marrow that could be affected in both sexes. One of the two dummies strapped into the spacecraft will be wearing the vest.

After the voyage, each phantom will undergo a CT scan to determine how much radiation the vest-wearing one was subjected to as opposed to the “naked” one. The results will be valuable for future upgrades to the AstroRad vest.

Needless to say, Helga and Zohar go way beyond your average crash test dummies.


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