Humans in Space



LSU faculty work to improve life on Earth and in space  

Life in space is a part of NASA astronaut and LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine faculty member Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor’s reality and experience.  

She is a medical doctor who is board certified in internal medicine and aerospace medicine.  

She spent 197 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station. In 2018, she was the flight engineer for two expeditions aboard the space station that contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science, and Earth science. Dr. Auñón-Chancellor and her fellow astronauts conducted research on new cancer treatment methods and algae growth. Most of the research conducted on the International Space Station advances science that helps people back on Earth.  

stock photo of earth from orbit“The life science research that we do on board the space station is for everyone’s health down here,” she said. “That’s why this is important—the more woman-power and manpower that we have on orbit, the more science we can do for you, to protect you and your health back here on Earth.” 

Now, she is a clinical associate professor of medicine at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine’s branch campus in Baton Rouge.  

Dr. Auñón-Chancellor and her spouse, LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy Assistant Professor Jeffery Chancellor, are both striving to improve the human condition on Earth and in space. Chancellor has a total of nine research grants and leads a group of scientists who are investigating biological, physiological, and behavioral responses to spaceflight with $1.8 million of support from NASA’s Human Research Program. He is focused on finding ways to help protect astronauts’ health and the safety of vehicles and equipment. 

Radiation is one of the major deciding factors between life and death in space. The continuous background radiation, beyond the Earth’s protective magnetic field, is one of the hard limits for how much time anyone can spend out there. 

LSU medical physics graduate student and Louisiana Space Grant Consortium fellow Megan Chesal is collaborating with Chancellor and developing intricate, fully digital 3D visualizations of human bodies, called computational phantoms, that can be used to study and predict the biological effects of various types of radiation. These computerized models can show fine detail, on the scale of human cells and DNA, on how different radiation particles and energies affect specific organs. They can also show how radiation affects men versus women. 

The long-term goal of Chancellor’s research group is to enable long-duration spaceflight—perhaps even space colonization. 


Life Beyond Earth

Dr. Auñón-Chancellor recalls some her most memorable experiences in space.  

“Watching thunderstorms roll across Africa at night during a night pass was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen; being able to see the entire Milky Way was beautiful. Just watching your body adapt and float and feeling so free wherever you moved inside the space station, and in space itself, never got old. Floating never gets old, even after 197 days,” she said. “You realize what an honor it is to be up there and what an honor it is to serve your country, to represent your country on board the space station, and really to serve the world and mankind.”  

Merely six weeks after she returned to Earth, she was back on her feet treating patients in the hospital.  

Now, she serves mankind as a NASA management astronaut, the aerospace medicine program director at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and an academic clinical faculty member in the internal medicine residency program at LSU Health New Orleans, which aims to build an aerospace medicine program around the breadth and scope of her knowledge.  

“Being an academic medicine faculty is one of the most—if not the most—important things to me. I love being part of the critical years of a residency program where I get to take part in the shaping and molding of young physicians. The right faculty and the right mentor can really make all the difference, and that’s what I wanted to return to,” she said.  

Tiger Eye 1 logo


The Space Between

Meanwhile, Chancellor is leading a team of LSU students, young alumni, and industry partners to develop a radiation detection device that will gather critical information about background radiation on the Moon.

The device is about the size of a smartphone and will be mounted on a lunar lander next year. It will transmit data from the Moon to LSU. The Tiger Eye 1 research team hopes to be able to maintain control of the device from a command center on the main LSU campus. 

Understanding the types and amounts of radiation that exist on the Moon will be key to establishing a sustainable human presence on Earth’s nearest neighbor as well as traveling to Mars. The data brought back by Tiger Eye 1 will further Chancellor’s research and development of protective materials to shield people and equipment from radiation. 

“We have models and predictions for human health risk on the Moon, but we don’t yet have actual measurements of the radiation spectrum on the lunar surface,” Chancellor said. “Now that we’ll get real data, we can use it to validate our models, make better predictions, and increase the safety of future space travel.” 

Tiger Eye 1 team members

The Tiger Eye 1 research team includes recent LSU graduates, from left, Haley Pellegrin, Katie Hostetler, and and Jacob Miller.

jeffery chancellor

LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy Assistant Professor Jeffery Chancellor and his team are focused on finding ways to help protect astronauts’ health and the safety of vehicles and equipment. 


He is evaluating the shielding used today on the International Space Station and SpaceX Dragon as well as developing designs to protect new space vehicles. Recent advances in 3D-printing technology offer promising new solutions as well. 

“It’s about where to put the shielding and how much of it to put where: location and thickness but also the material itself,” Chancellor said. “We can now print multiple materials over one solid object in layers. It all depends on where you need the most protection and the least protection. There are instances where you want the radiation to go through because it’s moving fast enough—by adding shielding and slowing it down, you could actually increase your exposure. So, instead of having three or four inches of shielding all over, we’ve developed a way to optimize it for the topography of a particular vehicle.” 

Both Drs. Chancellor and Auñón-Chancellor work to improve life on Earth, in space, and in between.  

“We could see the Earth and all its beauty, but you still felt somewhat disconnected because you couldn’t feel it. And it was amazing after you come back how much more I appreciate an early sunrise; how much I appreciate wind; how much I appreciate just standing outside during a quiet moment. It means a lot more to me now, I think, than it did before,” Dr. Auñón-Chancellor said. 

‘The most amazing’ experience

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Credit: NASA

You realize what an honor it is to be up there and what an honor it is to serve your country, to represent your country on board the space station, and really to serve the world and mankind.

- Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor