None of the private space companies planning to offer commercial human space flight opportunities have started their operations yet, however, discussion has been going on regarding the medical constraints limiting the possibilities of an individual to join either a suborbital or orbital space trip. So far it seems that authorities would prefer less strict medical requirements in order not to inhibit development of the sector.

WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo (Credits: Virgin Galactic).

WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo (Credits: Virgin Galactic).

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hasn’t issued any guidelines and opted to leave the medical screening procedures in the hands of commercial space flight operators. An article, published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal and written by a team of medical professionals of San Francisco’s University of California, aims to provide guidance for physicians entrusted with assessing the fitness of aspiring space tourists.

So far it seems the recommendations are rather vague: “Dr. Grenon and colleagues have emphasized the difficulties in commenting upon the fitness — or lack thereof — of potential candidates for spaceflight,” said Dr. Andrew W. Kirkpatrick, a military trauma surgeon and professor of critical care medicine at the University of Calgary and Foothills Medical Center in Alberta.

An artist's rendition of passengers free floating in SpaceShip Two (Credits: Virgin Galactic).

An artist’s rendition of passengers free floating in SpaceShip Two (Credits: Virgin Galactic).

It is obviously difficult to draw a line between eligible and non-eligible applicants. For example the severely disabled superstar physicist Stephen Hawking is already scheduled to join a suborbital flight with Virgin Galactic. According to Dr. S. Marlene Grenon, the study’s lead author, in comparison to regular orbital flight, suborbital adventures don’t pose any extreme threats to individual’s health: “Most people with well controlled medical conditions are capable of withstanding the acceleration forces involved with the launch and landing of commercial spaceflight vehicles,” Grenon said. The responsibility for pronouncing a passenger fit to fly will be shared among the examining physician and the space trip operator.

Once regular orbital space trips, offering extensive periods in microgravity, will come into consideration, the screening would have to become considerably stricter. According to Dr. Kirkpatrick “adverse physiological changes that increase susceptibility to critical injury or illness may be established within hours of leaving Earth’s gravity and chronic medical conditions may be exacerbated and unexpected acute emergencies may be more serious than on Earth.”

On the other hand, people with disabilities, such as paraplegics, would thrive in microgravity: “They will be able to fly in space just fine,” said Dr. Dan T. Barry, a retired NASA astronaut and physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, who was not involved with this study.  “Many mobility impairments will be gone in the space environment.”

What do you think? Is your health robust enough to fly on a commercial spaceflight?

 

Severely disabled physicist Stephen Hawking is expected to be among the first passengers of Virgin Galactic. The video below shows him in microgravity induced by a parabolic flight:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2KrEH-8lJw]