Although this collective experience is enough to teach us how the body responds when gravitational pull is greatly reduced, the magnetosphere still protects the ISS, and only the 24 astronauts who participated in the Apollo program have gone beyond it. (The Moon orbits on average more than 238,000 miles away.) Although these two dozen astronauts spent a little more than a week at a time without its protection, they died of cardiovascular disease at a rate four to five times higher than that of their counterparts who remained in low Earth orbit or never entered orbit at all, suggesting that exposure to cosmic radiation could have damaged their arteries, veins and capillaries.

We cannot send people to Mars, or live on the Moon, until we can be reasonably sure that they will survive to get there and reside there. But the space medical science needed to make this possible has been hampered by small sample sizes that are not representative of the general population. (All Apollo astronauts were white men born between 1928 and 1936.) Space tourism, however, promises to provide opportunities to study the effects of radiation and low gravity on a much broader demographic than the “really well-screened superpeople,” like Dorit. Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine, describes those who have historically qualified to leave the planet. “Old, young, pre-existing health conditions – we’re starting to put together a knowledge base that, in the future, will be essential even for NASA,” Donoviel told me, “because we need to learn about cases extremes to really understand what is happening. what happens in our body to adapt to a hostile environment. We don’t learn as much from healthy people. It’s when people get sick that we understand how they get sick and how to prevent it.

Epidemiologists face the same situation on Earth: before they can find a way to protect the population, they must wait until the disease affects enough people to expose its causes. As less rigorous medical screening allows more tourists to reach space, the chances increase significantly that someone there will be injured or have a health emergency. Aerospace medicine is one of three specialties certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine, because surgeons on any given flight tend to get stuck on the ground; they must optimize the health of their patients and ward off potential disasters Before departure. The problem is that they can’t know what these disasters will be before they happen. Which means that, as with any expedition into the unknown, at some point, intrepid or desperate souls will have to take off and see what happens.

Scientists once predicted that we could not live in the absence of Earth’s gravity. Without this still barely understood force that pulls us down, how could we swallow? Wouldn’t our tongues fall back into our throats? Wouldn’t we choke on our own saliva? And if we survived these perils, wouldn’t the increasing pressure in our skulls kill us after a week or so? But when Yuri Gagarin returned from his unique 108-minute orbit around our world in 1961, humanity’s first trip beyond the mesosphere, he proved that our internal musculature could maintain our vital functions in weightlessness. He ate and drank there without difficulty. Technically, he had not escaped Earth’s influence; To orbit is to fall freely towards the ground without ever hitting it, and it was in a condition known as microgravity. It was, he reported, “like being suspended horizontally from belts, as if suspended,” a circumstance fleetingly familiar to anyone who has been on a roller coaster or jumped off a diving board. Gagarin said he got used to it. “There were no bad feelings,” he added.

Either Gagarin was lying or he had a strong stomach. At first, many space travelers vomit, or at least experience motion sickness – space adaptation syndrome, or SAS, is the name given to this nausea, headache and pain. vomiting outside our atmosphere. “It’s the same as sitting in the back of a car as a kid and reading something with your head down,” says Jan Stepanek, director of the aerospace medicine program at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. the eyes see and what the inner ear tells you. Only in this case, this incompatible perception is the result of the organs and hairs of the vestibular system floating freely without their usual gravitational signals. We end up acclimatizing. In fact, researchers didn’t discover the prevalence of OSA symptoms until the 1970s, when they overheard Skylab astronauts talking about it among themselves on a hot mic. It turns out that astronauts are not ideal subjects for medical studies, as they are notoriously stoic and not open to any symptoms that might ground them.

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