Life in space changes the human immune system – DW – 08/22/2023 | Space


Spaceflight is a harsh experience for humans. First, there’s the cosmic radiation that bombards the body, and then the microgravity that messes with bodily fluids and pressure. Second, there are the effects of limited mobility in confined spaces and the separation from friends and family that can affect mental health.

Astronauts are among the fittest of the fittest. They train for years to deal with such conditions, but it doesn’t stop them having health problems in space. And that has started a whole new branch of medicine: space health.

Space health research may enable space tourism

Through space health research, we know spaceflight has short and long-term effects on almost every system of the body, from the cardiovascular and metabolic systems to the musculoskeletal and immune systems.

Microgravity makes healthcare in space very complicated: for example, how do you perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if someone has a cardiac arrest during spaceflight, without any hard “ground” to press upon?

On Earth, a person needing such first aid would typically lie on the floor. But in space, everything floats, making it almost impossible to apply pressure and get their heart started again. There are work-arounds, using straps and other methods, but you need to know how astronauts perform CPR in space, as Jochen Hinkelbein, a space health researcher at University Hospital of Cologne, Germany, has previously told DW.

And it’s not just professional astronauts who are affected by such concerns. Humanity is on the cusp of space tourism. Increasingly, those who can afford it, will be off on regular short trips to space, without any extensive training. We’ll soon need an industry of space health experts to help people remain healthy during spaceflight.

But for now let’s focus on professional missions, which can last between six and 12 months.

Space illness brought from Earth

The most common conditions astronauts suffer during long-term space…

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