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What are the health risks of space travel?

Posted on 20/12/2012

As ‘space tourism’ prepares for take-off, are we prepared for the health risks of space travel?

Dr Dave Green, Senior Lecturer in the Division of the Centre for Human & Aerospace Physiological Sciences (CHAPS), contributed to a BBC News article about the health risks of space travel and the implications for future ‘space tourists’.

The article suggests that astronauts are limited to spending six months on the International Space Station, around 200 miles above Earth, for a good reason. The loss of bone and muscle mass they experience in space is so profound that they cannot stay any longer.

For people who will be taking up places on forthcoming suboritbal flights (short trips to the edge of Earth's atmosphere, 60 miles up, in a specially-designed spacecraft), these and other health impacts need to be considered - especially if the ‘space tourists’ concerned are not fit, highly-trained individuals.

Dr Green predicts that in the next two years or so significant numbers of people will be taking up suborbital flights, which means they will dip out of Earth's atmosphere, experience weightlessness for around four minutes and then descend back to Earth's surface.

The speed of the acceleration and deceleration involved in that flight could be an issue for some, Dr Green says. "It's highly likely you will feel sick or be sick and that's a real concern. Also, there will be an issue making sure everyone gets back in their seats after floating about.”

He adds, “Going back to Earth, everything will feel heavier. You could knock yourself unconscious. The most common problems during a spaceflight have been shown to be motion sickness, fatigue, dehydration, loss of appetite and back pain. During the massive vertical acceleration and deceleration of spaceflight, it is hard for the heart to pump blood to the brain.”

“If you have underlying cardiovascular disease, that could be exposed," says Dr Green.

According to North American scientists writing in the British Medical Journal article, GPs should be prepared to answer patients' queries about their suitability for space travel in the near future. Yet there will be few GPs experienced enough in space medicine to provide advice.

Read the full BBC article - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20717969

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