Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Space Tourism: Need for Health Screening?

Here is interesting commentary on the potential health hazards of 'space tourism.' This refers to people who buy seats on suborbital commercial flights and who will experience zero-gravity and significant "G" forces. There are fears that such stressors could unmask cardiovascular disease (precipitate heart attacks) or other underlying health issues. The article on which the BBC commentary was based can be found here.

I was struck in reading this by the following:

1) Wow! We are talking about commercial space tourism. Although this industry is in its infancy, this seems like the stuff of science fiction.

2) This has to be the epitome of a "first world" health problem! Many people (though thankfully fewer than 20 years ago) are still dying from diarrhea, largely related to poor sanitation (almost 1.5 million died in 2010 alone). In 2010 over 125,000 people died from measles, a disease that is vaccine preventable. In striking contrast to these age-old health problems is the need to develop screening guidelines for commercial space tourists.

An interesting juxtaposition: a seat on a commercial space flight will cost around $200,000 dollars (for a whopping 4 minutes of weightlessness); this is 400 times the per capita GDP of people living in Zimbabwe. In our work in Honduras we support a rural, mountainous community of approximately 2,000 people across 17 villages with locally created clay water filters, each of which can provide clean drinking water to an entire family for approximately 2 years. One space ticket would pay for 8,000 water filters (they each cost roughly $25) and provide 16,000 years of clean drinking water. That's the equivalent of 333 person-years (when average family size is taken into account) of clean drinking water per second of weightlessness.

It will be interesting to see to what extent space tourism 'takes off' as a phenomenon.

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