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Spaceflight environmental effects on the human physiology

Mankind has always looked at the blue sky and wondered about the exciting journey in the mysterious world. The desire to extend the human presence in the deep space has pushed the scientific and technical boundaries farther. Today, various space agencies across the globe are planning for the manned Mars mission in the near future. Our prime minister, Narendra Modi has also promised to send Indian astronauts in space by 2022.

Space has a very harsh and extreme environment for the humans and their safety is the main goal for any space exploration mission. Astronauts suffer from various health problems during space missions because of the following factors:

Microgravity: In the absence of gravity, the human body experience weightlessness, which causes significant physiological changes in the body. In the microgravity, bone density and strength reduces significantly due to bone loss with a rate of 1-1.5% per month. It leads to changes similar to osteoporosis and increases the risk of kidney stone. Long term stay in the space reduces muscle mass and strength and diminishes cardiac functions. The upward fluid shift increases pressure on the eyes and causes vision problems. Due to altered physiology, the medicines may behave differently on the human body in the space.

Isolated and hostile environment:

Space radiation: The space radiation is the biggest limiting factor of human space exploration mission. In the spaceflights, the astronauts receive ten times more radiation than on the earth. The high radiation level inside the spacecraft increases the risks of cancer, DNA damage and central nervous system damage. Radiation sickness is also one of the major problem faced by astronauts.

Isolated and hostile environment: Long term stay in the isolated environment of spaceflight causes behavioural issues, mood swings, loss of interest in interpersonal interactions and activities, depression, psychiatric disorders etc. In the hostile environment of space chances of microbial infections increases. The physiology of the microbes changes in the space. The elevated stress level and altered the immune system increases the susceptibility towards microbial infections and allergies.

Careful and systematic research is essential to overcome the challenges related to physiological changes for future space missions.

Author Dr Priti J Mehta