Overview of the Ground-based Space Radiation Research in Europe
Space radiation has been long acknowledged as a potential showstopper for long duration manned interplanetary missions. Our knowledge of biological effects of cosmic radiation in deep space is almost exclusively derived from ground-based accelerator experiments with heavy ions in animal or in vitro models. In an effort to gain more information on space radiation risk and to develop countermeasures, NASA started several years ago a Space Radiation Health Program, which is currently supporting biological experiments performed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (Upton, NY). Accelerator-based radiobiology research in the field of space radiation research is also under way in Russia and Japan. Space radiation research in Europe has been mostly driven by flight experiments, and remarkable results were gathered in the field of space radiation dosimetry in low-Earth orbit. The European Space Agency (ESA) has recently established an ambitious exploration program (AURORA), and within this program it has been decided to start a ground-based space radiation biology program. Europe has a wide tradition in radiobiology research at accelerators, generally focussing on charged-particle cancer therapy. This expertise can be adapted to address the issue of space radiation risk. To support research in this field in Europe, ESA issued in 2005 a call for tender for a preliminary study of investigations on biological effects of space radiation (IBER). The study group has recommended ESA to support a research program on biological effects of heavy ions using GSI in Darmstadt (Germany) as main facility. The new accelerator currently under construction at GSI, FAIR, will be able to provide beams at very high energy in the future, thus covering an energy range (2- 20 GeV/n) of great importance in space but poorly explored so far. New biology research topics identified as possible targets for large integrated projects were noncancer later effects, acute effects by large solar particle events, and interaction of space radiation with other space environment stressors. An announcement of opportunity has been issued by ESA in March 2008, and this represent the first step toward a European Space Radiation Health Program.