CM – How a space doctor keeps astronauts healthy on the ISS

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April 22, 2021

by Issam Ahmed

From muscle loss to radiation exposure to the psychological effects of containment, space travel takes a toll on those fortunate enough to experience it.

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The European Space Agency’s flight surgeon Adrianos Golemis, who is responsible for the health of astronaut Thomas Pesquet during the SpaceX Crew 2 mission, gave some insight into the field of space medicine.

A: When we get over Speaking of low earth orbit, which the ISS is in, you have almost no gravity, which puts a lot of strain on your bones and muscles.

Radiation is a big problem because here on the ground we are protected by the magnetosphere (magnetic field) and the atmosphere, but if we go beyond that protection disappears.

And of course we shouldn’t forget that we are Have things we’re just beginning to understand: such as eye pathology (disease) or venous thrombosis (blood clots) that some healthy astronauts develop.

A: You could fly to the ISS for two or three six-month missions, probably without a significant impact on your health.

Our goal is that your risk of cancer is no higher than three percent compared to someone like you who has never gone into space.

When you take this away, the veins in your feet are still pushing blood to your head as if you were in a G, so you have more blood in the upper part of your body.

You can sometimes see that they really have that puffy face at the beginning of the mission.

Eventually the circulatory system adapts and the body gets used to a lower blood volume. Before they leave the ISS, we urge the astronauts to drink a lot and eat a lot of salt.

A: You are in quarantine, but we had two final PCR tests. And that should be 100 percent sure that they are not even carriers.

The immune system is below average when we are without gravity. People can develop infections they normally wouldn’t, even from the microbes we naturally carry in our bodies.

Q: The crew spends two hours a day using exercise equipment to keep them in shape. Are you in routine contact as well?

At the start of the mission, we would mostly look for space sickness after you went from a G to zero G.

Your mind is in a bit of trouble, there is a sensory conflict between your inner ear and what your eyes see. And this can lead to vomiting.

When you are in an environment like the ISS, you are really in a very small place, so you do not have any new stimuli and this has a psychological effect on you.

Q: Aside from having a good supply of medicines, what kind of medical equipment are there up there?

A: For example, we can analyze hematocrit (a test for red blood cells). From this we can understand if they are adequately hydrated and what changes are going on in their circulatory system.

A few years ago we came across some observations of thrombosis. Nobody expected this in healthy people, and it also gives us a new understanding of how the body works on our planet.

We now have ultrasound capability, and if someone develops symptoms such as pain or dilation, another member can Group do an ultrasound to determine if this is a clinical case of thrombosis.

If you have a case where the life or well-being of the astronaut is genuinely threatened, we will evacuate.

A: For me it was first a medical degree. Then I did a Masters in Space Studies from the International Space University (in Strasbourg, France).

I spent a year as a doctor in Antarctica to get a good understanding of a situation similar to space medicine. Finally, I went to Toulouse to Medes, the French Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology.

The European Space Agency is currently recruiting new astronauts and you can apply until the end of May. If you have a dream you should always try.

© 2021 AFP

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