Space Life Sciences
July 12, 2007
As part of our tour of Johnson Space Center, we listened to a series of lectures on astronaut selection and training, space life sciences, little autonomous camera satellites, and Robonaut. Judith Hayes gave the space life sciences lecture, which described the health care given to astronauts as well as the constraints that astronaut physiology imposes on equipment design.
This type of care involves extensive testing and research. The astronauts’ health is monitored throughout their lives, even after they retire, to study the long-term effects of space travel and to offer ling-term health support for these effects. Research also goes into how to address problems that may arise on future missions, such as bone loss on multi-year trips to Mars, or an emergency walk back from a lunar rover that died far from base. It’s difficult to do this research because of the limited number of hours and individuals in space, but simulations have been developed in the meantime, including ones that simulate microgravity with straps and elastic cords.
The astronauts also need to stay strong and healthy through exercise, not only to slow bone and muscle loss, but so that they will be able to follow the planned emergency procedures, which may include climbing and swimming around in heavy suits and parachute packs. There’s a yearly physical fitness test the astronauts must pass, so they often jog around Johnson. In space, it’s harder to stay fit not only because of microgravity, but because the exercise equipment is often out of order. The treadmill has the most trouble, and is only fully available on the space station about 20% of the time, looking at the graphs in Hayes’ PowerPoint.
Health care in space is challenging and full of unknowns—definitely an interesting place to work.