The need exists for compounds that will protect individuals from high-dose acute radiation exposure in space and for agents that might be less protective but less toxic and longer acting. Metals and metal derivatives provide a small degree of radioprotection (dose reduction factor <= 1.2 for animal survival after whole-body irradiation). Emphasis is placed here on the radioprotective potential of selenium (Se). Both the inorganic salt, sodium selenite, and the organic Se compound, selenomethionine, enhance the survival of irradiated mice (60Co, 0.2 Gy/min) when injected IP either before (-24 hr and -1 hr) or shortly after (+15 min) radiation exposure. When administered at equitoxic doses (one-fourth LD10; selenomethionine = 4.0 mg/kg Se, sodium selenite = 0.8 mg/kg Se), both drugs enhanced the 30-day survival of mice irradiated at 9 Gy. Survival after 10-Gy exposure was significantly increased only after selenomethionine treatment. An advantage of selenomethionine is lower lethal and behavioral toxicity (locomotor activity depression) compared to sodium selenite, when they are administered at equivalent doses of Se. Sodium selenite administered in combination with WR-2721, S-2-(3-aminopropylamino)ethylphosphorothioic acid, enhances the radioprotective effect and reduces the lethal toxicity, but not the behavioral toxicity, of WR-2721. Other studies on radioprotection and protection against chemical carcinogens by different forms of Se are reviewed. As additional animal data and results from human chemoprevention trials become available, consideration also can be given to prolonged administration of Se compounds for protection against long-term radiation effects in space.