Doctors have taken a first stab at outlining medical advice for a type of travel that will likely become much more common in the years ahead: ordinary people taking trips to space.
The advice, published last week in the British Medical Journal, focuses on those individuals with pre-existing conditions who might want to travel to space. Conditions addressed range from the minor—motion sickness, insomnia—to chronic conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis. For motion sickness, for instance, pack a lot of Dramamine. Cardiovascular problems can be staved off with an exercise regimen in advance, and deep vein thrombosis may require a round of preventative drugs. Infections, cancer and pregnancy, the authors suggest, may be cause for a no-fly n0te from your doctor.
The suggestions highlight the unique risks of spaceflight. As in normal air travel, individuals will be cut off from medical support, so existing illnesses must be well-controlled before takeoff. But prolonged antigravity can also wreak havoc on circulation, vision and bone density, even in healthy people. And being outside the Earth’s atmosphere exposes you to more cosmic radiation, which can damage DNA, possibly leading to a higher risk of cancer years down the road. Space tourists won’t go through NASA’s rigorous astronaut training, so more of the medical prevention will fall to their doctors at home.
Of course, for the average vacationer, there are a number of roadblocks higher up the list than health—for instance, the $200,000 for a seat aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, or the unpredictable length of the wait. (The company has said passenger flights may start as early as 2013.) But if you’re one of the lucky passengers, that could be time well spent getting a health checkup… and maybe a gym membership to boot.
Image courtesy of NASA.