What Happens if an Astronaut Gets Sick?! | #AskAbby Homeschool Edition | The Mars Generation | Season 3 | Episode 8

Season 3, Episode 8, #AskAbby Space and Science Show: Homeschool Edition

Presented by TheMarsGeneration.org

What Happens if an Astronaut Gets Sick?!

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In Episode 8 of the #AskAbby Space and Science Show: Homeschool Edition, host Abby Harrison will discuss ways that a sick astronaut can receive needed treatment while in space! From medical training prior to takeoff to video communications with doctors on Earth (like we’re doing now!) Abby will discuss some of the ways we can still support sick astronauts, even if they’re outside Earth’s atmosphere!

In this episode, Abby answers questions posed by Ms. Souad Belcaid’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 6th grade science classes at the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts including: How does an astronaut feel physically after returning to Earth? what happens if you get sick? Is there a doctor at the space station? What advice would you give us children during this pandemic?

Transcription of What Happens if an Astronaut Gets Sick?!

Hi everyone and welcome to #AskAbby: Homeschool Edition!

This is a new series of AskAbby intended to provide resources—and of course, some low-quality space puns and jokes—to students who are now doing distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every episode will feature questions submitted by students from around the world.

This episode is focused on sickness in space, and features questions submitted by the students at the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts.


Question number one: How does an astronaut feel physically after returning to Earth?

Astronauts returning to Earth after time in space can face a wide variety of different physical reactions, and it really is a case by case basis, because every astronaut will react differently. The two factors that are most impactful in the physical reaction that an astronaut will have when they return is the duration of time that that astronaut spent in space, and also just that astronaut’s own unique physiology.

Some of the physical reactions that astronauts might have to returning down to gravity include things like being dizzy, a loss of balance, feelings of heaviness or even the inability to walk or run properly. For example, U.S. Astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year in space, had some trouble walking when he returned. If you want to learn more about how space affects the body, you can go ahead and check out our AskAbby episodes about space motion sickness, and about astronaut DNA, both of which are linked below.

Question number two: What happens if an astronaut gets sick? Is there a doctor at the space station?

There is no resident doctor or surgeon onboard the International Space Station, but astronauts do have some basic medical training and have access to medicines and medical equipment onboard the space station. If there isn’t a doctor onboard the International Space Station and an astronaut needs medical treatment, they are able to talk remotely with doctors here on Earth, just like how I’m sure a lot of you are doing remote learning with your teachers, or have maybe even had a remote appointment with a doctor. I suppose if you get sick in space, you better hope that your buddy knows what he’s doing.

Luckily, if an astronaut does experience a major medical emergency while on the International Space Station, they could return to Earth to get treatment, or even have supplies sent up to them. On a long trip, such as to Mars, where astronauts no longer have the options of either returning home in case of a medical emergency, or having specialized equipment sent to them, it will become even more necessary for astronauts to have a deeper level of medical training and knowledge, as well as having a wider variety of specialized medical equipment available, essentially trying to prepare for any possible emergency, or even just being as prepared as possible.

And who knows what the future looks like. By the time that we’re landing humans on Mars, it’s possible that we’ll have systems like artificial intelligence or even robotics that can assist in diagnosing and treating astronauts during medical emergencies. If you want to learn more about that, be sure to check out the AskAbby episode about Artificial Intelligence and how it’s used in space! It’s linked below.

And for our final question, question number three: What advice would you give us students during this pandemic?

First off, during this pandemic, it’s really important both to take care of your own health, and to take care of those in your community by adhering to social distancing guidelines, washing your hands for 20 seconds at a time with hot water and soap, or using hand sanitizer frequently, and wearing a mask when you do need to go out in public.

Secondly, it’s important to stay calm, and remember that you’re looking after not just your physical health, but also your emotional health. So even though you’re social-isolating and avoiding contact with others, you shouldn’t be isolating yourself emotionally. Luckily we live in a time when there are a lot of different options of how you can interact meaningfully with other people whether those are your friends or your family, even when you can’t see them in person.

And finally, I understand that things probably seem really scary and uncertain right now, but it’s important to remember that they won’t always be that way. And that you can keep dreaming big, setting goals and working towards achieving those dreams and goals every day.

Today we answered questions about how medicine and health relate to space travel. We learned about the support systems that astronauts have if they do get sick in space and also what medicine might look like for astronauts on future missions to Mars.

And finally, we talked about the fact that this is a really difficult time, that a lot of things are changing, and that there’s a lot of uncertainty. But now more than ever, it’s important to keep dreaming big.

And finally we talked about the fact that this is a really difficult time, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop or that you have to stop setting goals or dreaming big, and if anything, it should give you more reason to dream big and to look towards the future.

Thanks for watching! To send in a question, you can Tweet me with the hashtag #AskAbby, or submit it at The Mars Generation website which is linked below.

Until next time, keep safe, keep healthy, and keep learning! So long fellow travelers of spaceship Earth.

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