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The Earth is continuously bombarded by high-energy cosmic rays, the primary source of ionizing radiation in the atmosphere that increases the risk of cancer and other health effects. Commercial aircrews are classified as radiation workers, and are among the most exposed occupational group. In any given year, a pilot absorbs as much radiation as a worker in a nuclear power plant. Yet, the dose of radiation they receive during a cosmic storm or during the span of their career is not quantified or documented.

NASA's Radiation Dosimetry Experiment, or RaD-X, is a high-altitude balloon project that will launch in 2015. It will provide first-time indications of how cosmic rays deposit energy at the top of atmosphere - which produce showers of additional particles that increase the energy deposited where commercial airlines fly. This experiment will improve NASA’s Nowcast of Atmospheric Ionizing Radiation for Aviation Safety (NAIRAS) model, which is currently used by public and private entities for informed decision-making about radiation exposure safety for flight crews, the general public, and commercial space operations.

Low-cost missions, like RaD-X, provide NASA with valuable opportunities to test emerging technologies and economical commercial off-the-shelf components which may be useful in future space missions. Developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center, it will launch from New Mexico and will fly on a scientific research balloon for 24 hours at approximately 110,000 feet. The flight will validate low-cost sensors for future missions and will provide data to improve the health and safety of all future commercial and military aircrews that transit the poles.

In addition, RaD-X will host the first Cubes in Space (CiS) balloon flight opportunity. CiS is a global Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM)-based education program for students (ages 11-18) that provides a no-cost opportunity to design and compete to launch an experiment into space. The small cubes are placed on sounding rockets and scientific balloons in cooperation with NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the Earth Systems Science Pathfinder Program Office.

RaD-X, one of two hosts for CiS experiments this year, will carry more than 100 small cubes filled with experiments created by students around the US.

In 2013, RaD-X was competitively selected as NASA’s Hands-On Project Experience (HOPE) program, a cooperative workforce development program sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL). The program gives early career or transitional employees hands-on experience to fast track project development learning, ultimately benefiting the Agency on future missions they will serve. RaD-X is managed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA and the team includes participation from the Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) and Ames Research Center (ARC).

go to NASA.gov Page Curator: Jay Madigan
NASA Official: Kevin Daugherty
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