Space Medical Professionals
Space medical professionals are doctors and scientists who study the effects of being in space on the human body, viruses, and medicines.
Related job titles: Biomedical scientist, doctor, clinician
Space medical professionals study the biological, physiological, and psychological effects of space flight upon humans. They try to understand what the long-term impact of being in microgravity is, what your diet should be if you live on Mars, and how protein crystals grown in space could be used to treat diseases on Earth.
Space is a very harsh environment for the body. Microgravity causes bone breakdown (demineralisation), muscle wastage (atrophy), cardiovascular problems, motion sickness, altered hormone levels, and a lack of coordination. Harmful radiation can cause genetic mutations, and the formation of cancerous cells. Understanding the long term effects of living in space is essential to any future manned mission to the Moon or Mars.
Most of the experiments conducted by space medical professionals are done on Earth. They might spin someone in a centrifuge in order to see the effects of extreme forces like those in a rocket launch, or study the muscle and bone deterioration of bedbound hospital patients to understand what happens the same processes in microgravity. They will also try to develop medical procedures that can be done in space.
Some experiments have to be done in space by astronauts on themselves. They might be asked to perform a particular exercise routine every day, record their sleeping habits, or measure their brain activity.
Other experiemnts done in space relate to the development of medicines and the study of bacteria. The growth of cells and crystals occurs very diffrently in microgravity, allowing research that just isn't possible on Earth. An astronaut might be asked to expose a sample of bacteria to the Sun's radiation to see if it could survive. Often this research can help the development of medicines and techniques on Earth.
Routes to being a Space Medical Professional
Space medicine is an interdisciplinary subject that requires a good understand of many topics across biology, chemistry, and physics. Most space medical professionals will first train as doctors or biomedical scientists, studying medicine, biology, pharmacology, or biomedical science at university.
Once you’ve graduated you can get a postgraduate degree (either an MSc or a PhD) specialising in aerospace medicine.
UK Space Life and Biomedical Sicence Association – UK Space LABS works to advance research into space life and biomedical sciences.
Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine – CASE Medicine is a group of clinicians and scientists with specialist interests and training in medicine and physiology of extreme environments like space.
Royal Aeronautical Society: Aerospace Medicine Group – The RAeS Aerospace Medicine Group works to promote awareness of the role of space medicine and improve links between people in aerospace medicine and other parts of the space industry. They organise a number of events which are free to attend.
National Space Biomedical Research Institute – NSBRI is an American institution working to ensure safe and productive human spaceflight by developing solutions to the health-related problems caused by long-duration missions. Their website has information about the latest developments in the field, videos of lectures, and a number of careers resources.