MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: What happens if you get sick on a space shuttle?

Date: Fri Sep 22 11:30:20 2000
Posted By: John Haberman, Space Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Center, Greenbelt MD
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 968774600.As

Hello Lia,
It is hoped that members of the space shuttle crew will not get sick or be injured. The shuttle carries basic medical supplies (probably similar to what would be available if you were camping in the wilderness.) They do have an advantage because they can quickly contact medical experts. Often one of the crewmembers is a medical doctor.

A non-invasive medical procedure, motion sickness (which happens even to astronauts!), a skin irritation, or perhaps even a broken bone, should be treatable by the members of the shuttle crew.

The question "Can they operate while in space" is a difficult question. Medical procedures (operations) are often more difficult than they appear to be to an observer. Because every person is unique and their body will react to events differently, the person performing the operation must adapt their procedures to the situation. This is made more difficult because of the weightlesness in space, the atmosphere in the shuttle, and many other factors. In addition, it is not fully understood how the body might react to anesthesia and to a medical procedure in space. There is, for example, some evidence that surgery immediately after a return from space carries some additional risk.

If a situation occurs requiring a quick return to Earth, it will require several hours to secure (prepare) the shuttle for landing and maneuver (move) the shuttle into an orbit from which it can land. They cannot immediately land the shuttle because they want or need to!

John Haberman

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