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Space: A new frontier for doctors and patients

Astronauts have really been the only people allowed to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before.’ But with commercial space travel on the brink of becoming a reality, anyone who can afford a $200,000 ticket into outer space can go. In a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, writer Erin Allday explores some of the challenges space tourism poses for doctors, with the obvious question being : Is the average person healthy enough to fly? She writes:

There’s a wealth of information about the effects of space travel on career astronauts – from the symptoms of space sickness to the long-term repercussions of lengthy stays at the International Space Station. But the effects on the average person with imperfect health are unknown.

“If you’re going into space for minutes, or even for a day or two, I would think the impact would be relatively small for the average somewhat healthy person,” said Dr. Peter Lee, a Stanford heart researcher who has conducted experiments on muscle atrophy in space.

“The question is if you get into patients with mild heart disease or pulmonary disease,” Lee said. “No one with those diseases has ever been allowed to fly. So some of it will be a little bit of trial and error, and initially (the space tourism companies) will probably be conservative.”

Lee is leading one of eight teams that are sending fruit flies to the International Space Station. The goal of the experiment is to further understand the effects of space travel on astronaut cardiovascular systems.

Previously: Fruit flies in space! Researchers hope to learn more about the heart through space-station experiment
Photo by Kreg Steppe

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