Being an astronaut is also dangerous in non-action film way

Mention to most people that being an astronaut is dangerous your listener will probably have a mental picture of the Challenger and Columbia disasters or of the near-disaster of Apollo 13. Those who know something of the history of NASA might think of the Apollo 1 launch pad deaths. They may even heard some of the rumours about lost cosmonauts.

Once the flights are over and the astronauts have arrived back home the public and the media tend to assume that the dangers are over. And if the only dangers you are interested in are the ones that would make good action movies then you are right. However, if you widen your definition of \”dangerous\” to include ongoing dangers to life and heath you find that years after their missions astronauts are still facing space-flight-induced dangers.

Astronauts lose bone-mass while they are in space (think of it as space-indued osteoporosis) and according to a recent report some suffer papilledema, a swelling of the optic disk that disqualifies them (at least temporarily) from future flight. Astronauts are still discovering the long term consequences of time spent in space and it will probably take years before we are aware of all of them.

It is easy to step forward and support people who are being publicly and obviously brave. I hope that the governments that reaped the glory for sending these men and women into space will continue to recognize and support their bravery when it is less public and not as easy to see.

You can read the news release/brief on the recent National Academies of Science Report High Frontier⎯the Role and Training of NASA Astronauts in the Post-Space Shuttle Era or you can download the entire report from The National Academies website or read it online.


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