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60-Second Space

Civilian Spacefarers Face Medical Hurdles

Opening the door to the paying public means that less healthy individuals will soon have access to space--if their doctors approve. John Matson reports

Let’s say you’ve saved up 200 grand for a trip to space with Virgin Galactic. Lucky you. But are you healthy enough to fly? You’ll have to talk with your doctor.

A new study in the BMJ  [S. Marlene Grenon et al., Can I take a space flight? Considerations for doctors] outlines the role that general practitioners will have to play in commercial spaceflight. After all, astronauts typically have to be in tip-top shape. But opening the door to the paying public means that less healthy individuals will soon have access to space, too.

And the stress of spaceflight, combined with the negative effects of weightlessness on muscle and bone, could cause real problems. It may be up to your personal physician to make the go/no-go call based on your medical history.

Among the potential hypotheticals floated in the BMJ study: “Can my patient with stable angina and a pacemaker for complete heart block participate in a suborbital Virgin Galactic flight? What is the maximum allowable time that my patient with osteoporosis can spend on a planned vacation at a space hotel?”

There are no official answers, yet. But the study’s authors note that such questions may be in the air—or lack thereof—in the not-too-distant future.

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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