How healthy do you have to be to go into space?

Always wanted to go to infinity and beyond but thought that you weren’t fit enough to be an astronaut? Good news: research has found that even people with medical conditions would be able to tolerate the stresses of commercial spaceflight.

The aerospace medicine group at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston studied how average people with common medical problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and back and neck injuries, would fare in the conditions experienced during spaceflight. They found that nearly everyone with well-controlled medical conditions who participated in the study tolerated simulated flight with no problems.

"Physiological stresses of flight include increased acceleration forces, or ‘G-forces’, during launch and re-entry, as well as the microgravity period," said lead author Dr Rebecca Blue. "Our goal was to see how average people with common medical problems who aren’t necessarily as fit as a career astronaut would be able to tolerate these stresses of an anticipated commercial spaceflight."

Until now there has been very little information about the risk of sending people with medical conditions into space. But as Virgin Galactic gets ever closer to the first commercial flight to space, it’s become more and more important to know what effects going into space could have on people.

Some medical conditions are of particular interest for the commercial spaceflight industry, either because of how common they are, or because of the potential to cause sudden, serious medical events. The researchers studied how people with these conditions performed when put through centrifuge simulations of spaceflight launch and re-entry.

This allows researchers to mimic the acceleration of a rocket launch or of a spacecraft re-entering through the atmosphere and is the method that astronauts often use to train for their own spaceflights.

Researchers wanted to see if the acceleration forces expected in a commercial spaceflight, which can be uncomfortable for healthy individuals, would be equally tolerable for those with more complex medical histories, or if certain conditions would make it more difficult to handle the flight.

"This study further supports the belief that, despite significant chronic medical conditions, the dream of spaceflight is one that most people can achieve," Dr Blue said.

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