ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli to test PERSEO, an innovative radiation protection vest

In just a few days, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will lift off for the International Space Station on the #VITA mission. Among other tasks, he will be testing PERSEO (PErsonal Radiation Shielding for interplanetary missiOns), a special radiation protection vest. Thales Alenia Space is a partner in the PERSEO project, led by the University of Pavia, with Cesare Lobascio as Co-  Investigator.

We asked Martina Giraudo [science & exploration radiation and nuclear systems engineer at Thales Alenia Space in Italy], who had always dreamed of being an astronaut, to explain this project.

Thales Group - Martina_Giraudo
Martina, what’s your role on this project?

Initially, I contributed to a radiation protection assessment study, then in the last year I have been involved in the more technical and management parts of the project, working with different people inside and outside the company. So I’ve gotten to see all different aspects of this project.

What’s the main aim of the experiment?
Thales Group - Nespoli_PERSEO_1100

We designed a simple radiation protection vest, which provides radiation shielding material over sensitive body parts (e.g., bone marrow) to protect an astronaut in case of a solar particle event. The vest is inflated with water from the existing ISS system. The main aim of the experiment is to test the filling and draining procedures, and the wearability of the vest itself.  The vest was custom-tailored for Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli – so of course we’ll be asking him how well he’s able to move around the ISS wearing a large amount of water!

Will you track these operations from Earth?

Yes, we’ll be connecting to the ISS from a control room in Italy, so we can monitor the experiment in real time, and support the astronaut if needed.

How does PERSEO protect astronauts?
Thales Group - Nespoli_combinaison-1100

By shielding astronauts from radiation, PERSEO aims to prevent an occurrence of acute radiation syndrome, which could lead to the astronaut’s death in a worst case solar particle event. It’s mainly intended for use on future missions outside the Earth’s magnetic field protection, to the Moon or Mars for example. With the PERSEO vest, the astronaut will be protected from the incoming radiation, allowing them to move around the spacecraft for emergency maintenance activities, for instance, without being forced to stay in a very small shelter for many hours.
Was this the first time you actually met an astronaut?

Thales Group - Paolo_Nespoli_300
Yes, Paolo Nespoli was my first astronaut! It was kind of cool, actually. Paolo was very polite and helpful, and gave us important feedback and suggestions for improvements. He was also very interested in the development of supplementary radiation protection systems for space exploration.
When we will receive initial feedback from the experiment?

Paolo will test the vest this autumn, we will get our first feedback.
When the vest and water container return to earth in 2018, we will conduct further analyses, helping us understand the impact of the launch and the zero gravity environment on all materials involved.

Space is your current profession… did you ever dream about space as a child? 

Definitely! I spent my childhood reading and watching many space-related books, TV series and movies, so of course I wanted to go into space when I was a kid! After all, who has not dreamed about space!?!


Thales Alenia Space provides half of the Space Station's pressurized volume!

Thales Group - ISS_1100_2

The ISS holds a special place in the hearts of Thales Alenia Space’s engineers. The company has provided fully half of the pressurized volume on the ISS, including Nodes 2 and 3, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), the Multipurpose Logistics Modules (MPLM) and the Cupola, the Columbus lab structure, and the cargo modules for the ATV resupply vessels. Thales Alenia Space also builds, on behalf of Orbital ATK, the pressurized cargo modules (PCM) for the Cygnus resupply vessels. Another Cygnus will be launched in the coming months. Stay tuned for the latest info.  

Cartoon: © Thales Alenia Space/Briot
Photo Martina Giraudo: © Thales Alenia Space
Photo 2: © Thales Alenia Space
Photo 3: © ESA/Stéphane Corvaja
Photo 4: © ESA