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Table of Contents    
GUEST EDITORIAL
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 67  |  Issue : 8  |  Page : 170-171

Likely challenges facing future astronauts assigned to long duration space flights


Research Cosmonaut, ‘Umber’, 57-C, Sanjiv, Kotagiri Road, Springfield, Coonoor, The Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication24-May-2019

Correspondence Address:
Wg. Cdr. Rakesh Sharma
Research Cosmonaut, ‘Umber’, 57-C, Sanjiv, Kotagiri Road, Springfield, Coonoor - 643 103, The Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.259121

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How to cite this article:
Sharma R. Likely challenges facing future astronauts assigned to long duration space flights. Neurol India 2019;67, Suppl S2:170-1

How to cite this URL:
Sharma R. Likely challenges facing future astronauts assigned to long duration space flights. Neurol India [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 6];67, Suppl S2:170-1. Available from: http://www.neurologyindia.com/text.asp?2019/67/8/170/259121


Manned space flights have been undertaken thus far by a band of individuals that were carefully selected by experts after lengthy evaluations to ascertain their suitability for the intended missions. Aerospace medicine professionals have played a major part in ensuring the success of these missions by contributing their expertise, both during the selection process as well as during the conduct of the space flight by ensuring the well-being of space travelers. The advances made in this area for more than half a century have now provided these professionals with an opportunity to dare to attempt mightier things in this domain.

Similarly, space technology itself has advanced and matured enough for Humanity to resume space exploration beyond the near-earth orbit. For the first time, manned space programs are being tailored not to exploit the near-earth orbit but to return to the Moon and later, Mars. This is being attempted with the stated intent not to visit but to settle down—to set up viable human habitations that support human life, in our celestial neighborhood. Taken together, these events are going to present a new set of challenges for the medical support fraternity in the very near future.

Aerospace medicine professionals have collected a voluminous amount of data and perfected interventional strategies to ensure that space crews stay well and remain productive in a microgravity environment, right through their tenures in the near-earth orbit. The existing record for long duration space flight stands at 438 days. Going forward, we shall be seeing longer transit times, longer “duty” tenures and hence, the need for much greater preventive and proactive medical oversight. My understanding is that this bit is doable given the ready availability of credible medical data that has been gathered over the years ever since human space programs have started. Furthermore, real-time medical data is routinely being telemetered down to mission control.

Long duration inter-planetary space flights will increase the “degree of difficulty” associated with health monitoring of space travelers. While the fidelity of data being telemetered back to earth is not likely to be an issue, the transmission delay may become an issue worth thinking about. More importantly, I believe that the bigger challenge is going to be in ensuring the psychological well-being of space crews assigned to human settlements on the Moon. Later, longer transit times to Mars (and hence, increased distance from the safety of planet Earth), will add another challenging dimension requiring the evolution of interventional psychological strategies—both passive and active—to ensure the mental health of long duration space crews. If we introduce the element of interpersonal behavioral dynamics amongst multi-cultural space crew members operating for long durations in enclosed spaces while located in alien environments, we can begin to see the contours of the challenge that Aerospace medicine is likely to be confronted with in the not-too-distant future [Figure 1] and [Figure 2].
Figure 1: Wg. Cdr. Rakesh Sharma (Retd.) in 1984 in his cosmonaut suit; and, in 2019

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Figure 2: The author doing yoga in the Space Station, 1984

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I am confident that, as in the past, technology will be leveraged and innovative strategies evolved by Aerospace medical professionals. As brought out above, apart from monitoring and maintaining the medical status of space crews, there appears to be a role for neuropsychologists to make an important contribution towards the success of human space missions in the future.




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