Radiation risk to astronauts beyond low earth orbit: An overview of technical, ethical and legal aspects

    Research output


    This master’s thesis assesses technical, ethical, legal, and some policy aspects of radiological protection of astronauts in view of planned future human exploration-class missions beyond LEO. The particulars of deep space radiation, the characteristics of the different space radiation environments beyond LEO and a short overview of currently planned missions to cislunar space, to the Moon surface and to Mars are discussed. The biological effects particular to deep space radiation are also discussed. Some of the technical challenges surrounding the radiation protection of astronauts are reviewed with a focus on the issue of uncertainty and the different strategies for uncertainty reduction as well as the on the current state of the art in operational radiation protection strategies by the major space agencies involved with human spaceflight. A proof-of-concept experiment is described where total ionizing dose was measured during several stratospheric balloon flights in order to evaluate whether cheap passive dosimeters could still be of use in radiation protection today. Some of the ethical aspects surrounding radiation protection system are also discussed; from risk perception, -evaluation and -acceptability to risk management strategies currently employed by the space agencies and the ethical issues of shared decision making, informed consent and individual autonomy. Finally, an overview is given of the legal frameworks dealing with radiation protection as established in international space law and in international nuclear law, with a focus on some legal aspects including personalized cancer risk assessment based on the astronaut’s DNA, the issue of unequal employment opportunities caused by the different career limits for male and female astronauts, the privacy of astronaut health data and assorted privacy issues and as well as the prospect of introducing waivers of liability for long-duration missions. The viability of successful legal action following harmful radiation exposure situations is briefly reviewed as well as the issue of private spaceflight beyond LEO, which seems currently unregulated, arguably increasing the risk of harm
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationMaster of Science
    Awarding Institution
    • KU Leuven
    • Universiteit Gent
    • Lapenta, Giovanna, Supervisor, External person
    • Madders, Kevin, Supervisor, External person
    • Baatout, Sarah, Supervisor
    • Baselet, Bjorn, Supervisor
    Date of Award30 Jun 2022
    StatePublished - 30 Jun 2022

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