• Question: Are doctors important in travelling through space?

    Asked by DoctorM27 on 28 Jan 2020.
    • Photo: Yuri Yushtein

      Yuri Yushtein answered on 28 Jan 2020:

      Absolutely! Doctors are essential to ensure health and safety of the astronauts for space travel.

    • Photo: Abbie Hutty

      Abbie Hutty answered on 20 Feb 2020:

      Having basic medical skills is very important and is an essential part of all astronaut training. It is not enough to have just one doctor on board, as if the doctor gets ill, someone else would have to treat the doctor! At the moment all astronauts are advised to have non-essential body parts, like wisdom teeth and their appendix, removed before going to space, so that there is less risk of them causing illness while on the space station. Then all astronauts are trained to do basic medical tests and treatments, like ultrasound scans and giving injections, so that they can help out if their crewmates get ill in space. The ISS also has a big supply of emergency medicines on board in case anyone gets ill so that they wouldn’t have to wait for them to arrive on the next supply ship from Earth!

      At the moment at the ISS, the astronauts are in close enough contact with the Earth that doctors can always be in communication with the astronauts to advise what treatments are needed, so the astronauts themselves don’t have to be fully qualified medical doctors. In the future for longer trips further away from Earth the amount of medical skills the astronauts will need is likely to increase as they will be too far away to rely so heavily on Earth-based doctors.

      There are also doctors who spend their whole careers making sure astronauts are protected as much as possible, and are doing all the right things to maintain their health and fitness as much as possible while they are in space, and to recover again quickly once they get back to Earth. This is a field called Space Medicine and it employs quite a lot of specialist doctors, and will continue to grow as a discipline as more and more people go to space and for longer and different types of trips, like to the Moon or Mars.