Getting Sick In Space

If NASA has its way, it won’t be too long before humans are going to boldly go where no one has gone before — Mars. However, long-distance space travel brings with it a unique set of health problems. Space travel is still inherently dangerous because you’re essentially floating through an airless vacuum in a sealed-up container, only staying alive because of the machinery recycling your air and water. There's little room to move and you're in constant danger from radiation and micro-meteorites. There’s no gravity, and that wreaks havoc with the human body. Astronauts’ faces grow puffy and round, and they constantly feel like they have the flu, complete with blocked sinuses. Muscles that are used to fighting gravity on earth begin to weaken and waste, which is why astronauts have to do 2-3 hours of exercise every day just to maintain muscle mass. Coughs and colds are completely different in space. If you catch and cold on earth, you stay home and it’s no big deal. If you’re living in a densely packed, confined space — breathing recirculated air — touching common surfaces over and over again, you’re ripe for catching a cold. What about emergencies? While a rescue from the ISS can be performed within a day, the people who go Mars will be an 8-month journey away, which is why they need to be prepared to manage their own medical issues. All astronauts are trained to perform CPR in zero gravity, which requires bracing their legs on the ceiling while pushing down on the patient on the floor below. NASA is currently trying to bring together doctors, biomedical scientists, and students of all kinds from around the country in a national network to address on some of the health problems and design protocols that will help get astronauts to Mars and back in one piece.