Q: What do you call a man with no arms and no legs flying aboard the International Space Station?
A: Fred the Phantom Torso
If you don't get the joke, that's fine. Fred would probably not find it especially funny either if he were alive. It's not that Fred is your average dummy, it's that he's a genuine dummy. A carefully-constructed mockup of a human torso, Fred is 43 kg (95 lbs) of real bone and density-matched plastic used to model human organs. His only job is to lie still, not a hard task with no limbs, and act as a target for cosmic rays and other high-energy particles.
Fred flew aboard the International Space Station in 2001 as part of a project to determine the effects of cosmic radiation on astronauts. While earthbound humans have little to fear from cosmic rays, people living and working in space must contend with the possibility of increased incidences of cancer resulting from the cell damage caused by heavy, high speed, highly ionized atomic nuclei. It is estimated that spacewalking astronauts experience 27 times the number of cosmic particles as someone on the ground.
According to NASA, Fred's job was threefold: to determine how radiation is distributed amongst the various organs and tissues, to correlate those doses to skin-surface doses, and to provide real data against which predictive models can be compared.
In February 2004, Fred's replacement, an 80 kg dummy named Matroshka, arrived aboard the Space Station to conduct follow-up research. Matroshka, constructed similarly to Fred, will carry out a year-long stint as a spacewalker (an ironic term for a legless entity) before carrying out further measurements inside the station.
For more information, see
Phantom Torso Fact Sheet:
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