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).

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

« Previous entry
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Micki

    I always figured one of the major health problems for astronauts would be lack of access to health care if anything happened. For instance, if an astronaut developed dangerous kidney stones, or appendicitis, who will do the surgery? If they have some sort of accident or major trauma, who would be qualified to fix that? And even if you have someone qualified, do you have the equipment, or the sterile environment, to perform whatever procedure needs to be done?

    September 17, 2008 at 04:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. H. Alan Wood

    Dr. Gupta's report on the space station was interesting but inaccurate. The astronauts are not living under zero gravity. They are only far enough away from the earth to experience approximately a 10-15% decrease in gravitational forces. The station is falling towards the earth and the floating is like going over the top of a hill in a car. Even that small reduction in gravity has significant effects on the astronauts. For instance, red blood cell production shuts down causing anemia – and that is just the tip of the ice berg of space medical problems. This is why we have not been back to the moon for decades.

    September 17, 2008 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Gita

    Wherever we are, we need to do exercise. Our body is meant for that!

    Since an astronaut's cardiovascular system becomes lazy in space and highly fine tuned receptors in neck artery and other arteries(opposes gravity to maintain blood flow to the brain) that sense change in blood pressure and flow are no longer necessary in microgravity as the blood pools around the heart and thorax(fluid shift in other words, quantity and distribution of body fluids alter as it is free of gravitational effect). One develops puffy nose,head ache and the sinuses swell. The fluid shift also shrinks the size of your legs.

    They need to do some exercise for legs(for the lower waist to maintain fluids in the lower part of the body). It's b'coz of gravity blood flows to the toes. Venous pressures(related to the gravity) is more in the feet than in the brain.

    The most abundant minerals in the blood are first calcium,second phosphorus in the ratio of 2:1. On earth, our bones support the weight of our body. The size and mass of our bones are balanced by the rate at which certain bone cells(osteoblasts) lay down new mineral layers and other cells (osteoclasts) which chew up those mineral layers. In space, our bones don't need to support the body and most weight bearing bones(hip,back,thigh) are not used much. As a result of this, osteoblasts reduce even though osteoclasts remain constant. This results in the reduction of size and mass of bones as an astronaut remains in space, leading to bone loss & finally to osteoporosis. As the bones chewed up by osteoclasts, the blood calcium concentration level increases and the kidney has to get rid of thsi excess calcium which makes them susceptible to form kidney stones.

    Our human red blood cells is biconcave discoid shape(like doughnut without a hole!). In space they transform to spherical shape but they return to their normal shape once the astronauts are back on earth. Very interesting. Another problem for astronauts is space radiation. Here on earth, the atmosphere and magnetic field provide shield for us from radiations(from outer space).

    Who wants to go to space anyway? It's so boring and unattractive. Earth and gravity are awesome.

    You want to go to space Sanjay? As a Doctor, may be you can experiment with it and come up with some remedies.

    September 17, 2008 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Elizabeth

    On the gravity point, both Dr. Gupta and Mr. Wood are a little inaccurate. Yes, at low earth orbit where the space station hangs out the force of gravity is at about 90% of the strength it is at at the earth's surface. However, as the space station and astronauts are in a constant state of free-fall which effectively counteracts that force, from their frame of reference they are experience zero gravity (or micro gravity to be precise). The effects on their bodies are the same as if they they were isolated in interstellar space.

    Anyway, I thing by far the biggest risk to astronauts is radiation. While chronic bone loss and medical emergencies are not good, all it takes is one moderate solar flare (a common event) to fry all the astronauts in minutes. The space station is lucky in this regard because it is in the earth's magnetosphere, but other trips to mars and the moon must deal with this. The best solutions are massive amounts of shielding by lead or heavy water (but this is very expensive to launch). I saw an article on a radiation damage pill that helped mice survive lethal doses if they took it an hour before exposure, this is also promising. Chronic radiation is also an obvious concern for future cancer.

    September 18, 2008 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. buy cialis

    I'm just commenting to let you be aware of of the exceptional discovery my cousin's child enjoyed going through your blog. She discovered a wide variety of details, most notably how it is like to have a very effective coaching heart to get many more effortlessly fully understand certain extremely tough matters. You actually exceeded people's expectations. Thank you for presenting these powerful, trusted, informative and in addition fun tips about this topic to Kate. https://azzaroelectric.com/

    January 7, 2021 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. luvox without a prescription

    I'm commenting to let you be aware of of the amazing discovery my child developed browsing the blog. She came to find a good number of details, including how it is like to have a great coaching character to get a number of people clearly completely grasp a number of advanced issues. You actually did more than her desires. I appreciate you for churning out such beneficial, dependable, edifying and cool guidance on that topic to Emily. https://luvoxfluvoxamine.com/

    January 8, 2021 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. sildenafil india paypal

    buy sildenafil with visa https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil pharmacy australia

    April 4, 2021 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. does canada sell generic vardenafil

    vardenafil 20mg india manufacturer https://vegavardenafil.com/ vardenafil coupon

    April 6, 2021 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. order tadalafil

    tadalis sx https://elitadalafill.com/ generic tadalafil

    April 6, 2021 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. alprostadil urethral suppository

    injectable drug for erectile dysfunction https://alprostadildrugs.com/ alprostadil covered by blue cross

    April 7, 2021 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. alprostadil price in usa

    muse alprostadil suppository https://alprostadildrugs.com/ alprostadil injection

    April 12, 2021 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. vardenafil 20 mg

    vardenafil 20 mg tablets https://vegavardenafil.com/ vardenafil hcl generic

    April 19, 2021 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. ทางเข้าw88ล่าสุด

    Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I'd figured I'd ask.
    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog article or vice-versa?
    My blog goes over a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you happen to be interested feel free to send me
    an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!

    April 19, 2021 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. 100mg sildenafil no rx canadian

    sildenafil 50 mg tablet coupon https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil gel india

    April 22, 2021 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. avanafil

    avanafil 50 avanafil dosage

    April 27, 2021 at 05:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. buy aralen online uk

    is chloroquine over the counter https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloroquine moa

    April 28, 2021 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. online erectile dysfunction prescription

    erectile aid pump https://canadaerectiledysfunctionpills.com/ erectile brokenness

    May 1, 2021 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. canadian pills pharmacy

    canadian diet pills https://canadapillstorex.com/ average perscription pills taken by 65 year old canadian?

    May 2, 2021 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. dapoxetine

    dapoxetine ed priligy price

    May 5, 2021 at 01:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. chloroquineorigin

    aralen chloroquine https://chloroquineorigin.com/ – buy chloroquine online hydroxychloroquine aralen hcq chloroquine prophylaxis

    May 23, 2021 at 01:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. brimonidine

    brimonidine tartrate brimonidine generic

    May 25, 2021 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. tausAffessy

    where to buy cialis without prescription cialis tadalafil where to buy generic cialis online safely https://tadalafilol.com/

    May 25, 2021 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. avana

    avana 50 mg avanafil 50mg

    May 26, 2021 at 04:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Soosteemocush

    cialis at canadian pharmacy https://tadacipetadalafil.com/ – tadalafil brands generic cialis online fast shipping cheapest tadalafil cost https://apcalisetadalafil.com/

    May 26, 2021 at 21:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. tausAffessy

    cost tadalafil generic cialis tadalafil tadalafil without a doctor prescription tadalafil goodrx https://apcalisetadalafil.com/

    May 27, 2021 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. aralen

    hydroxycloro clorochina hydroxychloroquine medication

    June 5, 2021 at 03:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. cialis at canadian pharmacy

    tadenafil cialis tadalafil tadalafil softsules tuf 20

    June 7, 2021 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. www.pharmaceptica.com

    hydrochloraquin https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 21, 2021 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. pharmaceptica

    is tadalafil and cialis the same thing https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 25, 2021 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. pharmaceptica.com

    malaria drug chloroquine https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 25, 2021 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. pharmacepticacom

    buying sildenafil 100mg https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 29, 2021 at 05:12 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry
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.