Exploring the final frontier to advance cancer research

Kristine Ferrone has survived Mars – or a simulation of the Red Planet, anyway. During the summer of 2009, Kristine Ferrone and five other volunteers lived for a month in a cramped habitat built on the edge of a 39-million-year-old crater carved out by a meteorite. The barren Canadian island site was about as close as you can get to a Mars-like environment on Earth. The simulation was an opportunity to conduct geophysical experiments, try out laser therapy to relieve symptoms of physical exertion, and learn about the challenges of minor injuries and illness in such a stark environment. “This unique simulation experience was the closest mindset to being in space,’’ Ferrone says. “It was invaluable. I go back and draw from it often.” A chance to curb radiation effects A third-year doctoral student in our Medical Physics graduate program, Ferrone is conducting research into radiation shielding that she believes could yield benefits for future astronaut pioneers exploring beyond low-Earth orbit, as well as cancer patients here on Earth who are undergoing radiation therapy. A 10-year NASA veteran, Ferrone has worked as a NASA flight controller for the International Space Station and continues working part-time as a systems engineer for The Aerospace Corporation during her graduate study. In addition to an undergraduate degree in astrophysics, she’s earned three master’s degrees – in space architecture, sports medicine and business administration. “Human space flight is what I’ve been doing my whole career,’’ she says. “The research I’m doing now aims to reduce the cancer risk for astronauts from space radiation. That’s the end game.’’ Ferrone’s advisors, Charles Willis, Ph.D., associate professor...