How is NASA preparing for possible medical emergencies on the Mars mission?

Of all the challenges of sending humans to Mars, the one we have the farthest to overcome is completely unrelated to rockets, habitats, or sophisticated water treatment systems. The big problem we have to face on the Red Planet is the limitations of the human body.

Our bodies adapt wonderfully to the different ecosystems on Earth, but that's not so much the case when it comes to the environment of other planets.

We talked to two space medicine experts to find out how to treat patients or people who have been injured in space, and what questions come to the minds of researchers when it comes to the health of astronauts we send into the solar system. he does.




Thanks to two decades of research on the International Space Station, we now have a wealth of information on how the human body responds to space missions. Microgravity in the station environment creates a series of changes in the body, including bone loss, muscle weakness, and redistribution of fluids (when there is no gravity that pulls fluids down, they usually accumulate in the upper body). He also mentioned other similar problems such as visual disturbances. These symptoms occur on astronauts' regular six-month to one-year tours of the International Space Station, which is roughly the same length as astronauts traveling to Mars.

The good news is that researchers have found many ways to counteract these effects, pointing out, for example, the importance of several hours of daily exercise to keep muscles from losing muscle.

European Space Agency surgeon Filippo Castrocci says long-haul space flights, such as the Mars mission, are medically similar to those on the International Space Station. And that means we can be pretty sure that astronauts will be able to travel to Mars without a medical accident.

"During the 20 years that we have seen astronauts temporarily staying at the International Space Station, there has never been an accident that forced us to return the astronauts immediately," he said. Castrochi adds that one of the main reasons for this is the careful selection of astronauts who are in the most ideal state of health and who are constantly monitored for at least two years before the mission begins. As a result, the possibility of a medical accident on the Mars mission, although not completely zero, is very low according to the evidence obtained from the International Space Station.


Mobile doctors

But the low chance of a medical emergency cannot be equated with the impossibility of such an event. The Mars mission crew must be prepared to deal with anything from common problems that occur in space for the body to accidental injuries and unexpected illnesses.



All astronauts acquire basic medical skills, and in each crew, at least two people undergo additional medical training to become a "crew medical manager" (or CMO). CMOs receive the same amount of training as medical assistants and are able to use medical equipment, distribute medication, and use a shock device.

However, Castrochi says that even the most trained CMOs will not be enough to provide medical support on a trip to Mars, so such a space mission would require a trained doctor to be a member of the crew.

It is not possible to return to Earth at any time on a trip to Mars, so if the urgency is beyond the CMO's capabilities, the chances of surviving the disease increase significantly. Therefore, it is necessary for at least two people to have the same abilities as a specialist doctor. In this way, there will be a doctor on the crew who has the skills of surgery and prescribing internal medicine.


Medical emergency management in space

One of the challenges in preventing medical practice on the Mars mission is the communication delay between the crew and Earth. When astronauts live on the International Space Station, medical support is provided immediately by doctors on Earth. But as the spacecraft moves farther from Earth, the latency between communications increases. Finally, we see a 20-minute delay between Earth and Mars. This means that the Mars mission crew must act independently in the event of an accident, and ground support will be limited to providing instructions.

There are also a number of problems with gravity differences when engaging in some therapeutic procedures in space, so the crew must practice with their miniaturizers in order to leave the treatment behind.

Castrucci points out, for example, the CPR maneuver that on the ground, the patient must lie on a firm, upward surface for the rescuer to be able to drop his or her weight on his or her chest. This is not possible in a low-gravity environment.

In space, the crew must have access to certain subsurface surfaces that attach to a frame and the injured person can be attached to it. The doctor must also go inside the frame himself to be able to squeeze the person's chest without pushing himself back. And since it is not possible to make the most of body weight, the pressure on a person's chest must also be greater than normal.

All of this makes working like a CPU in space much harder and slower than on Earth, and this is just one example of the medical challenges in space.


Challenges of Mars

There are many challenges to dealing with a medical issue in space, and most of them are related to living in its finest state. As soon as astronauts reach Mars, they are again affected by gravity - Mars' gravity is about 40% of Earth's gravity - but the planet also poses its own challenges.

Mars is a very dusty planet, and this dust can lead to itchy skin, eye allergies, as well as allergies and lung congestion. Needless to say, fatigue, stress, and sleep deprivation are expected to occur on Mars' highly stressful mission. All of these have far-reaching effects on physical and psychological health.

But the biggest problem on Mars is something that escapes the naked eye: radiation. Here on Earth, we have a magnetic field that protects us from cosmic rays and solar winds, but there is no such thing on Mars. What exacerbates the problem is Mars' narrow atmosphere, which is about 1 percent denser than Earth's.

Previous Mars missions, such as the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, have found that radiation levels are 2.5 times higher than those found on the International Space Station. And sometimes (probably due to solar activity) the amount of radiation reaches even higher levels. How can astronauts be protected from this invisible threat?


Unseen danger of radiation


We know that exposure to radiation increases the risk of cancer and degenerative diseases and leads to damage to the nervous system. These waves can also cause other problems in the body such as cataracts and infertility. Recently, physicians such as cardiologist Mann Mirmann have studied the effects of radiation on long-term space missions on health and found that the heart and vascular systems are highly sensitive to space radiation.

"One of the most worrying things about space radiation is that we do not know enough about it, so we are not able to predict with full confidence the consequences for astronauts' health," says Merman. Astronauts are unlikely to get sick or die during the mission, but in the long run they may be at risk for deadly diseases such as cancer.

The information we have about space radiation beyond the Earth's lower orbit comes from a very small sample: ‌ People who have been to the moon and who have not provided us with enough data to make a general conclusion. In this way, NASA collects information from similar sources: such as patients who have received radiation therapy or people who have been exposed to radiation in nuclear disasters such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

This is because two types of radiation must be considered in the Mars mission: First, we have cosmic rays that cause you to be constantly exposed to penetrating ions. Then there is the sudden and occasional increase in radiation due to solar flares. There are many things we are simply unaware of when it comes to how long-term radiation affects the health of the body.


New research methods

Due to the fact that radiation is a major problem in space travel, in recent years we have seen an increase in the number of studies in this field. In addition to traditional methods such as animal research, the approach taken by Myerman et al. Is "chip-on-body" research. In this method, chips containing cells made in the laboratory are used to simulate the reactions of real human organs. This technique can be used in research that is either impossible or dangerous to do on a living human being.

This type of research is now being conducted on the International Space Station, and it is hoped that using this method we will be able to learn more about the effects of space environment on the human body. In the future, the same method could be promisingly used to study space radiation.


Many unknowns

The big problem that doctors like Mirman are grappling with is that when it comes to the health of astronauts on the Mars mission, countless unknown factors lie ahead. We cannot say for sure what the long-term effects of radiation are, and we still have no sure way to protect astronauts from these potential effects.


So although we are technologically ready to send humans to Mars, we have to ask ourselves ethical questions, because space medical research is still in its infancy. "We have to ask ourselves whether we are willing to travel to Mars without knowing the danger that astronauts face. "It is more of a moral question than a scientific one."



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