NASA software scalpel helps doctors practice operations. Technologies such as this have the potential for improving health care at remote places on Earth (and space) by linking them with the best medical minds and facilities. Courtesy Ames Research Center, NASA
the ray gun
And while they are exposed to strong ultraviolet light, the aluminum skin of a spaceship blocks that.
Add it up, and
an unshielded astronaut in low-Earth orbit gets about 10 times as much
radiation as strikes the ground,
according to White (see "Weightlessness and... " in the bibliography).
Spacefarers who venture outside the ship can get the bends, a painful accumulation of nitrogen in the blood that plagues deep-sea divers. Although West sees no insuperable respiratory obstacles, he says detailed pulmonary data on long-term missions at the space station could still yield surprises.
Lugg -- and many within the space bureaucracy -- look to lessons from Antarctic exploration to learn what will happen on long-term space travel; "We see the Antarctic as an analog for space travel," says Lugg. In fact, he says, records from the Australian outposts that are inaccessible for eight months a year provide information about "the most isolated people on the planet." Each Australian outpost gets a jack-of-all-trades doctor, Lugg says, who, like spacebound docs, can deal with some emergencies, depending on their training and equipment.
Space travelers may eventually want to rely on "telemedicine," robots that do surgery under the command of Earthbound experts. Yet despite progress, telemedicine is problematic for interplanetary space travel, since radio signals take up to 40 minutes to reach Mars. Says Lugg, "I'd worry if some sort of robot was doing surgery and you pulled a lever on Earth," and nothing happened until 40 minutes later.
Although radiation, heart attacks and fires make lousy copy for a travel-agency ad, space travel can be more exciting than a complementary trip to Vegas. Says White, "For the most part, the trip is not only pleasant... but overwhelmingly positive. The traveler has the opportunity to look out the window, see the world in a new light, float, feel free of some of the restrictions of weight."
He didn't mention osteoporosis. Is bone thinning the biggest single threat to astronauts?
are 1 2 3 4
5 pages in this feature.
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