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No one likes getting sick but here on Earth, it’s a little easier to manage. Imagine getting a cold up in space? Well, that’s what happened to the Apollo 7 crew during the 1960s mission in which the commander caught a cold, spread it to the other two astronauts and all three of them spent the entire mission trapped inside a cramped spacecraft, sneezing, hacking and griping at the ground.
Luckily, that was just 11 days in Earth orbit. So what about a year aboard the International Space Station (ISS)? What about a two-and-a-half-year mission to Mars? And what about something more serious than a cold, such as appendicitis or a heart attack or a severe injury? These questions are important to answer for all those looking to live in space including Asgardia the first ever space nation open to all.
A lack of gravity plays with our bodies from the bones, muscles, organs, and eyeballs, to even the brain itself. Plus, there are higher risks of infection that come from sealing half a dozen people inside a self-contained vessel, where a virus or bacterium could simply circulate ’round and ’round, from person to person indefinitely.
However, these are some of the things that rookie astronaut Kjell Lindgren will be thinking about while he is onboard the ISS for the next six months. He was launched there on July 22, 2018, with two other crew members. Lindgren is not only a well-trained astronaut, he is a specialist in aerospace and emergency medicine—the kind of expert who will increasingly be needed as the human presence in space becomes permanent.
In a recent conversation with TIME, Lindgren explained that if we want to go to Mars someday if we want to get further and deeper into the solar system, we need to start thinking about these things, thinking about the capabilities we need to do an appendectomy or remove a gallbladder.
Luckily, there will be no gallbladder or appendix removal during Lindgren’s stay aboard the ISS this time. For now, he and the ISS flight doctors back here on Earth are only taking space-medicine baby steps, learning the basics about the radical differences between medical care on the Earth and medical care in space.
Here are 3 few of the most puzzling problems they are aiming to learn how to solve:
When you’re on Earth, your organs settle into predictable positions. A doctor palpating your liver or taking your heartbeat knows exactly where things should be. But because of zero-gravity, the organs may be displaced a little bit, according to Lindgren. They often shift up a little more. The heart may have a little bit of a different orientation, and this could be reflected on an EKG. Other kinds of shifting or compression—of the lungs, stomach, bladder and more—can cause problems of their own.
Without gravity applying pressure on your skeleton, it doesn’t work nearly as hard, which causes it to weaken and decalcify. Because of this astronauts spend many hours every week exercising to counteract some of that, but nothing can reverse it completely. In fact, when Russia’s Mir space station was still flying, newly arriving cosmonauts were warned not to exchange traditional bear hugs with crew members who had been there for a while at the risk of breaking ribs.
Astronauts who have been in space for a long time usually find that their vision has become worse, and it doesn’t always return completely to normal when they land on Earth again. The problem is due to fluid shifting upward from the lower body into the head, compressing the optic nerve and distorting the shape of the eyeball. Moreover, it is more common for eye infections and irritation because dust doesn’t settle in the vehicle like it does on Earth, said Lindgren, so things that are liberated, little pieces of metal from equipment or maybe dead skin just float around and cause eye irritation.
So, it will be interesting to see what Lindgren’s six-month stay aboard the ISS brings for medical breakthroughs in space.
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The post Kjell Lindgren to Perform Experiments on How to Deal with Health Issues in Space appeared first on Asgardia Space News.