What Would I Do With Funding From NASA?

If NASA gave me the opportunity to perform an experiment in outer space what would I do? There are so many possibilities, so many experiments I would like to conduct if I were given funding from the organization. But as an aspiring doctor, I am drawn to the idea of experimenting with space medicine.

As we send humans to space and also begin to explore the idea of living on another planet, we must consider how our health will be affected by living in outer space. A major issue is radiation because the amount of radiation humans are exposed to in space is much greater than the amount we are exposed to on earth. Currently, astronauts are only allowed to spend small amounts of time in space to reduce the risk of too much exposure to radiation. However, scientists such as Frank Cucinotta from the Johnson Space Center are looking for alternative solutions.

Cucinotta is considering ideas such as outfitting astronauts with shields containing large quantities of hydrogen, as well as providing astronauts vitamins that absorb particles that produce radiation. Other scientists are experimenting with the ideas of programmed cell death or fixing of gene damage in cells. I would want to experiment not with ways to prevent space radiation, but with ways to actually use it to our benefit. Though exposure to radiation puts people at risk for cancer, radiation therapy is also a method of cancer treatment. Would it be possible to use space radiation as a means of cancer treatment? To determine the answer to this question as well as to the broader question of whether space radiation has any benefits, multiple experiments would have to be conducted over a long period of time. Though the forefront of NASA’s current research regarding radiation should undoubtedly be focused on protecting today’s astronauts from its dangerous effects, it would be very interesting to experiment with the positive effects of radiation in addition to finding solutions for negative ones. If NASA gave you funding to conduct an experiment, what would you do?