In order to become an astronaut, one has to become the healthiest and physical fittest version of themselves because astronauts are some of the most disciplined and well-trained individuals in the world. They are extremely healthy and fit, and they undergo a process of rigorous and endless training, and they are fully quarantined and thoroughly vetted before beginning their journey towards up in the space. And despite all these safety measures, endless training rituals, superior physical fitness and regulatory precautions, even the healthiest people in the world tend to get sick sometimes.
For instance, Fred Haise, from Apollo 13, was suffering from an excruciatingly painful and devastating kidney infection during an extremely dangerous and critical space mission, which has given birth to the popular phrase, “Houston, we have a problem”.
Another case of illness was reported from a Utah senator and former astronaut, Jake Garn, who suffered from motion-sickness while serving on a Discovery mission in 1985, and it was so severe that it led to the development of the Garn Scale that is now used by astronauts to rate and examine the nausea levels. Since space missions are planned and carried out with highly disciplined and strict scheduling, which is all planned out in advance, astronauts who get sick while serving on a space mission simply cannot take a trip down to earth to visit their doctor and recover from their illness.
However, whenever these astronauts do fall ill, they get access to all kinds of healthcare amnesties and facilities because NASA and all the other space agencies have healthcare missions aboard space crafts and the ISS, who are fully prepared to fight off and treat all kinds of illnesses.
Let’s take a look at some of the illnesses that are commonly suffered by astronauts in space, and how they are commonly dealt with:
Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS)
When the human body is exposed to a zero gravity environment, it tends to undergo a series of changes that alter normal body functions. One of these effects include the responsibility of making the fluids within the body float, which tends to cause complications for the inner ears, and confuses their ability to differentiate between up and down. This can lead to the development of the space adaptation syndrome (SAS), which is an extremely common ailment, and a lot similar to having seasickness in space.
Motion sickness is reported to be the second most commonly occurring ailment, and it is considered to be a subset of the space adaptation syndrome (SAS). Statistics reveal that this ailment tends to impact around 67-75% of the astronauts in space.
Researchers reveal that the bodies of the astronauts require some days to adapt to the lack of gravity and perpetual weightlessness, and during this process, they tend to experience a series of awful symptoms, such as vomiting, nausea and terrible headaches. Now, it might seem to most that vomiting your guts out on a spacecraft, hanging in the middle of space, is the worst thing that can happen, but NASA has cleverly planned out an elaborate system to handle these symptoms.
All astronauts tend to carry special barf bags, which come with special face wipes and Ziploc seals, which they can access anytime they feel like puking while in orbit, or even during a launch, or whenever they feel the urge to vomit. Once a bag has been used, it is discarded into the trash.
Sniffling & Colds
Since astronauts are highly trained and quarantined before they are sent out on their flight into space, they are highly unlikely to be exposed to pathogens and allergies during their stay in space. However, if an astronaut comes down with a case of common cold of heavy sniffling, it is expected to be a case of an Earth cold on steroids.
Experts report that sinuses cannot be drained in zero gravity conditions, so astronauts suffering from congestion tend to feel a severe stiffness in their nose, which is completely different to how we feel here on the Earth. These ailments and their risk factors tend to worsen because of the fact that germs tend to stronger in environments that are weightless and deprived of gravity, as pathogens tend to thrive and develop rapidly.
Basically, they are capable of forming thicker cell walls, with more powerful resistance towards antimicrobial agents and compounds, and a stronger ability to form the so-called biofilms that become attached to the surfaces in environments deprived of gravity.
Fortunately, common colds and symptoms of the flu tend to disappear on their own on both, the earth and space, so all astronauts need to do is give it a few days and take medicines to reduce the severity and discomfort of the symptoms.