In 2018, Texas A&M University researcher Jeff Chancellor will watch as his wife, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, and her fellow NASA astronauts embark on a mission to the International Space Station -- and as she prepares for her journey, Chancellor is doing his part to contribute.
Chancellor is part of a team of computational physics researchers at Texas A&M who have been working to develop an accurate method of simulating the radiation make-up of environments such as outer space or Mars.
He said the team was able to "reproduce the measured spectrum" of radiation from current and previous spacecrafts -- a feat which he said has potential to help discover new ways to develop better materials and keep astronauts safer in the face of foreign radiation environments.
"Honestly, I think it could change almost everything," Chancellor said. "It provides the capability to put a satellite or some other type of vehicle or system into the environment you expect it to be exposed to so you can test it to the point where we can determine what it's lifespan would be, approximately."
Chancellor said much of the team's work only was made possible by the supercomputer resources from the Texas A&M High Performance Research Computing and the Texas Advanced Computing Center. He said the data run during their research would have taken more than three years to compute on an average laptop -- a task he said was completed in "about an hour and a half" with the supercomputing resources at A&M.
Team leader Helmut Katzgraber said the team's approach stems largely from its members.
"Basically you have a bunch of fundamental physicists that sat down and thought about the problem and came up with a solution that didn't require any type of material science or engineering input," Katzgraber said. "If you're really interested in doing something for society, you don't have to be a material scientist to get this going."
Where some researchers are focused on science for the purpose of discovery, Chancellor said their team is focused more on solutions.
"Our goal is to provide something usable," Chancellor said.
Chancellor said while there may not be an immediate change seen in the aftermath of the team's recent research, he hopes to see its effects quickly.
Katzgraber said the team's recent work is just the "first step in a cathedral tower" of the research still to come as they endeavor to make a real impact on the safety of space travel.
"The most important thing was to validate and make really sure we were [correct]," Katzgraber said. "Now that we're sure, the next step is pretty clear."
Moving forward, he said the team will begin working with companies and other entities currently working in foreign environments to "change how these guys have been doing radiation testing."
While Chancellor said his wife's upcoming trip into space certainly has given the project a personal component, he said it is a pursuit he has been invested in for nearly two decades.
"Knowing and being in this field where for a long time the answers were very vague and uncertain is part of the drive to try to find a better solution," he said.