Space tourists may soon be plunking down six figures and buying passage to a low-earth orbit -- but they should know there are likely to be health risks, experts say. Both coming and going, spaceflight can threaten tourists' health, with potential dangers from higher gravitational forces during acceleration, and space motion sickness that strikes some people in low and zero-gravity. Outside of the Earth's protective magnetosphere, space radiation might also pose a risk, possibly to implanted medical devices. And a hidden threat might be the unpredictable ways people act while confined in a ship in this new situation. But the experts' bottom-line message? There's too little information now to definitively answer the question of who is fit for this kind of travel. "We don't have a specific list of conditions that would be disqualifying, but certainly uncontrolled medical problems (whether it's hypertension or heart disease or lung disease, or many other conditions), would most likely cause concern and result in disqualification," Dr. Tarah Castleberry, an assistant professor of aerospace medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, told Reuters Health by email. Castleberry and her colleagues are a part of an academic network created by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assess challenges in commercial spaceflight. Recently in the quarterly journal New Space they published an outline of what remains to be done to understand the health risks. So far, most data on the risk of spaceflight comes from professional astronauts. But space tourists will likely be a much more diverse group, with a broader range of health conditions. Earlier this year, researchers from Castleberry's group ran 335 volunteers through a centrifuge that simulates the forces of acceleration in spaceflight. Most had one of five medical conditions: hypertension, diabetes, back or neck problems, cardiovascular or lung disease. No one suffered significant damage or setbacks from the experience, the researchers reported last July in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine. The most common complaint was grayout, the blurred vision that is a precursor to blackout, which occurred in more than two-thirds of the volunteers. Twenty per cent had nausea, and six per cent had chest discomfort. With historical data so limited, it's difficult to make predictions, the researchers say. More via MSN.
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