Scientists Create Sunblock for Space

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. enrich / ɛnˈrɪtʃ / (v) – to make the quality of something better by adding another thing to it

    The energy drink is enriched with vitamins and minerals.

  2. repel / rɪˈpɛl / (v) – to keep something out or away

    The strong scent of the plant naturally repels mosquitoes.

  3. accumulate / əˈkyu myəˌleɪt / (v) – to increase gradually in amount over a period of time

    Snow accumulates in front of our house every winter.  

  4. countermeasure / ˈkaʊn tərˌmɛʒ ər / (n) – an action that is meant to prevent danger or threats

    The school’s countermeasures against cheating are ineffective because a lot of students still cheat.

  5. validate / ˈvæl ɪˌdeɪt / (v) – to determine if something is true or not

    The committee still needs to validate the results of the elections.


Read the text below.

Scientists created a special sunblock called selenomelanin, which protects astronauts from dangerous radiation.

The sunblock was created by enriching melanin with selenium. Melanin is a natural substance that provides color and protection to human hair, skin, and eyes, while selenium is an element that has cancer-preventing properties.

To test the effectiveness of selenomelanin, the scientists exposed cells treated with the sunblock to lethal amounts of radiation. Results showed that as the cells absorbed the sunblock, they created tiny shields that repelled the radiation. Additional tests showed that cells fed with certain nutrients can produce selenomelanin by themselves, suggesting that astronauts can create the sunblock even in space.

According to the scientists, the sunblock they created can be incorporated into the lining of an astronaut’s spacesuit to provide continuous protection. Outside Earth’s protective magnetic field, astronauts are exposed to damaging ultraviolet, gamma, and galactic cosmic rays. These dangerous rays can accumulate over time and increase the risk of cancer, dementia, and even death. Traditional countermeasures, like water shielding, are bulky and greatly increase the cost of a space mission. Because of its lightweight nature and ability to be manufactured in space, selenomelanin can be used as an alternative protective agent.

Currently, the sunblock still needs to be tested on human beings in space to validate its protective abilities. The scientists would also like to investigate whether selenomelanin can be found in nature, such as in fungi growing in environments with high radiation. According to the scientists, they have already been contacted by other groups of researchers interested in studying the sunblock.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think the scientists should also create selenomelanin suitable for use on Earth? Why or why not?
• Do you agree with the idea of testing the new sunblock directly on humans in space to validate its protective abilities? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• What aspects of space travel do you think need further research (e.g. access to food, temperature)? Why?
• Do you think a lot of people will become more confident to travel to space in the future? Why or why not?