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The medical implications of space tourism

The medical implications of space tourism

Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 71(6): 649-651

Commercial space travel may soon be a reality. If so, microgravity, high acceleration, and radiation exposure, all known hazards, will be accessible to the general public. Therefore, space tourism has medical implications. Even though the first flights will feature space exposure times of only a few minutes, the potential may someday exist for exposure times long enough to warrant careful consideration of the potential hazards to the space-faring public. The effects of acceleration and microgravity exposure are well known on the corps of astronauts and cosmonauts. The effects of space radiation are partially known on astronauts, but much remains to be discovered. However, there are problems using astronaut data to make inferences about the general public. Astronauts are not necessarily representative of the general public, since they are highly fit, highly screened individuals. Astronaut data can tell us very little about the potential hazards of microgravity in pediatric, obstetric and geriatric populations, all of whom are potential space tourists. Key issues in standard setting will be determining acceptable limits of pre-existing disease and inferring medical standards from mission profiles. It will not be a trivial task drafting minimal medical standards for commercial space travel. It will require the collaboration of space medicine physicians, making the best guesses possible, based on limited amounts of data, with limited applicability. A helpful departure point may be the USAF Class 3 medical standard, applicable to NASA payload specialists. It is time to begin preliminary discussions toward defining those standards.

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