September 16th, 2008
11:43 AM ET

Health lessons from space

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

A few weeks ago, my producer Chris Gajilan and I got on the phone to talk about a series of stories we wanted to do on space medicine. I was really excited because since I was a kid, I have always been interested in space and had dreams one day of going there. Life, though, does sometimes take you in different directions, and I opted for the brain surgery job, instead of the rocket scientist…ba dum. I’ll be here all week…

Seriously, though, when I heard NASA scientists had come up with a model of weightlessness here on Earth, I jumped at the chance to investigate. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. In order to re-create the fluid shifts that are seen with prolonged space travel, scientists decided to put a group of patients at bed rest… for 3 months. Head down about 6 degrees, feet up, and absolutely no getting out of bed. As I learned, while extremely cumbersome, it is a pretty good model.

Over time, lots of things start to happen to your body, things that can be devastating. Turns out, as human beings, we like a little gravity. It keeps just enough pressure on our joints and bones to keep them strong. Without the usual gravitational force, our bones start to wither away. And, the calcium that starts seeping out of the bones finds its way into our bloodstream and can cause painful and sometimes dangerous kidney stones. Astronauts can develop advanced bone loss. As astronauts push farther into space on longer missions, the concern is that they will face debilitating osteoporosis so severe they can spontaneously break bones.

So, NASA scientists now had two challenges. One was to create the model. Two: figure out a way to prevent some of these serious health problems when astronauts are in space for prolonged periods. Tomorrow, I will tell you what the smartest minds in the world came up with; but today, I wanted to see what you thought. What do you think are some of the biggest health problems for astronauts in space and what do you think could be done about them?

If you want to cheat… take a look at this preview (watch video).

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.