Ad astra vita! – A Brief Overview of the Medical and Physiological Problems Associated with Spaceflight

Introducing our new special guest editor, Philip Vukovic – BSc (Melb). Many thanks to Philip for this wonderful introductory piece for anyone who is curious about the effects of spaceflight on humans.

As we continue to embark on our journey through the austere and challenging environments of space, further research in space medicine and life sciences will become even more important for mission success.

Understanding some of the medical and physiological problems associated with spaceflight will provide the backbone through which we can continue to develop effective means to support the survival, health and performance of astronauts and commercial crew members.

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

What are the “space life sciences”?

As defined by NASA, the space life sciences study interactions between living organisms and characteristics of the space environment. These studies specifically address the structure and function of living organisms in space and interdependent relationships of organisms with each other and/or the space environment while also touching on the origin, evolution and potential for extraterrestrial life.


Spaceflight results in many medical and physiological effects on the human body. Many such effects on the human body result due to microgravity, which refers to the near weightlessness environment encountered in space.

As stated by Kunihiko Tanaka et al. (2017), exposure to microgravity can result in changes in the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and vestibular systems. Astronauts who are exposed to such environments immediately begin to experience bone loss, which raises concerns about fracture risk and increased long-term risk of osteoporosis. The vestibular system, which helps to maintain balance and provide information about body position, is impacted by microgravity. Once astronauts return to Earth, they are often supported when emerging from the capsule as they may experience problems standing and walking due to microgravity’s effects on the vestibular system.


Radiation is one of the most menacing and pressing concerns associated with long-duration spaceflight. The risks associated with radiation in spaceflight pose many problems and influence the planning, execution and operational decisions of missions.

Jeffery C. Chancellor et al. (2014) state that exposure to space radiation exacerbates the risk of cancer and increases the likelihood of experiencing central nervous system problems. Space radiation can also narrow arteries and damage the heart, ultimately resulting in cardiovascular disease. On a cellular level, the primary means through which radiation poses a problem, is by damaging DNA. Such effects on DNA may cause several changes to genes, which can potentially lead to cancer.

Isolation and Confinement

Confinement to a small space, with a small group of individuals, over long periods of time will inevitably result in problems. With missions to Mars being in discussion, crews will need to be carefully chosen, trained and supported in order to safely succeed in the 480-million-kilometre journey to Mars and back.

Pagel and Choukèr (2016) highlighted the numerous harmful effects that the human body experiences when subjected to long-periods of isolation and confinement. Various long duration isolation and confinement analogue studies have shown that individuals may experience symptoms of depression, a reduction in positive emotion ratings and cognitive impairment. Quality of sleep can also be significantly affected, posing serious problems to the health of astronauts and to the timely and successful completion of daily space tasks.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

The frontiers of space medicine

Whilst a plethora of research and literature exists regarding space medicine, further research is necessary to ensure safe manned space explorations. Travelling the cosmos and conducting interplanetary missions will be a bold endeavour, but as former US President John F Kennedy famously proclaimed, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Further Reading

NASA (2013, December 19). About Space Life Sciences Website. Retrieved from
NASA (2019, May 9). 5 Hazards of Human Spaceflight. Retrieved from
Tanaka, K., Nishimura, N., & Kawai, Y. (2017). Adaptation to microgravity, deconditioning, and countermeasures. The Journal of Physiological Sciences67(2), 271-281.
Chancellor, J. C., Scott, G. B., & Sutton, J. P. (2014). Space radiation: the number one risk to astronaut health beyond low earth orbit. Life4(3), 491-510.
Pagel, J. I., Choukèr, A. (2016). Effects of isolation and confinement on humans-implications for manned space explorations. Journal of Applied Physiology.

ASBX 2021 starts tomorrow!

Last chance to register FREE for ASBX 2021: The Australian Space Biology x Health Summit (16-19 November, hosted online), the world’s largest conference dedicated to the human element of space exploration. Our international cohort of speakers includes leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs, policymakers, scientists, researchers, physicians, lawyers, astronauts, and academics across a wide range of topics related to space biology and health, the space economy and space technologies, and STEAM education.

All presentations will be pre-recorded so registrants can view them at their leisure on YouTube, regardless of their time zone, and LIVE panel sessions will be hosted in both the United States and Australia. REGISTER via the ASBX 2021 website link. See you there!

ASBX 2021 only three weeks away!

ASBX is just 3-weeks away and we are already breaking records! We want to thank all our speakers and supporters for joining the world’s largest conference dedicated to space biology and space health.

It’s not too late to join and register for free today at
and visit our incredible list of speakers at

Don’t forget to join our LIVE discussion panels both in Australia and in the United States, and check out our STEAM competitions and scholarships on offer:

SPONSORS, small or large, are welcome to support the Christmas ‘space toys’ drive for sick children in hospital and STEAM education initiatives. For more information visit:

ASBX 2021 – The Australian Space Biology x Health Summit

ASBX 2021 – the 3rd Australian Space Biology x Health Summit, will be held from 16-19 November, 2021. 

It will be free, presented virtually, and registrants will have access to both the pre-recorded presentations by a stellar local and international line-up of speakers, and the daily live panel discussion sessions. For those in other time zones, you will be able to listen to the presentations on YouTube at a time that suits you.

STEAM COMPETITION: ABSX2021 is running a STEAM program for students (of all ages) and young researchers, including three themed competitions, and some scholarships on offer from MMAARS – Mars-Moon Astronautics Academy and Research Sciences. Visit the ASBX Competitions page via the attached QR code below.

REGISTER via the  ASBX 2021 website (or the attached QR code). The most recent newsletter is here. You can subscribe to newsletters and view the archive via links on the top left of the page.

SPONSORS, small or large, are welcome to support the Christmas ‘space toys’ drive for sick children in hospital and STEAM education initiatives. For more information visit the Sponsors page.

SPEAKER INVITATION: The good news is that since ASBX2021 is virtual with pre-recorded presentations, we are still accepting speakers until the end of the month. Videos will need to be submitted by November 1st so we have time to process them all and upload them to YouTube. This is the speaker invitation (or use the attached QR code) and the speaker Google Form. We are also asking people kindly to send in a suitable headshot and a short bio (150 words max), and use this introductory slide (as personalised) for their talks.

Please regard this as your personal invitation to register and attend this year’s exciting event.

We look forward to seeing you at the Summit!
(In the image below, you can find QR codes linking to the ASBX 2021 website, our STEAM competitions, the most recent newsletter, and the formal speaker invitation, which contains a link to the speaker ‘expression of interest’ Google Form.)

ESA Space Physician Training Course

ESA is calling for applicants for the 2022 Space Physician Training Course. I attended last year, and it was fabulous. Well worth applying if you are interested!

ESA Space Physician Training Course 2021 Participants and Faculty

Space Industry and the STEM Workforce

Proud to have contributed to this Report…

Rapid Response Information Reports 2021

Rapid Response Information (RRI) Reports are prepared on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council (the Council) to deliver timely responses on specific questions raised by the Australian Government.

Introduced as part of the Council’s refreshed Terms of Reference, the reports provide a more responsive mechanism for Ministers to access science and technology advice in a consistent and policy relevant manner.

Latest Rapid Response reports:

  • Space Industry and the STEM workforce
  • What are the growth areas in domestic STEM skills to support jobs in the space industry, and how can these be addressed by the tertiary (university and relevant VET) sector?

ASBX2021: Meet our Speakers!

Registrations (free) are open for ASBX2021 – the 3rd Australian Space Health x Biology Summit ( Secure your spot now! This virtual Summit will feature an unmissable line-up of both local and international presenters and panellists (recordings will be availabe for registered participants). Meet some of them below:

Space Analogue – Human Ready

Dr Graziella Caprarelli (UniSthnQld): Comparing Planetary Environments for Human Exploration

Prof. Kimberley Norris (UniTas): Moon, Mars and Mental health: Psychological considerations for long duration spaceflight and space habitation

Myles Harris (UCL): Space health and disaster risk reduction

Thomas Mueller (German-AusCIC): TBA

Don’t forget if you are able to sponsor us, all funds will go towards a Christmas drive for children with cancer so no $$$ is too small or too big. Make a difference today.

ASBX2021 – Meet our Speakers

Registrations are open for ASBX2021 – the 3rd Australian Space Health x Biology Summit ( Secure your spot now! The Summit will feature an unmissable line-up of both local and international presenters and panellists. Meet some of them below:

Space Femtech – Disrupting “Humans in Space”

Prof. Julie Hides (Griffith Uni): Parallels between musculoskeletal reconditioning of astronauts and terrestrial populations

Dr Rosemary Craig (Rapair): Wound Repair in Space

Dr Shawna Pandya (IIAS): Space Medicine on the Moon, Mars & Beyond

Dr Chandana Unnithan (Torrens Uni): Space Technologies in Public Health Management

ASBX2021 – Meet our Speakers

Registrations are open for ASBX2021 – the 3rd Australian Space Health x Biology Summit ( Secure your spot now! The Summit will feature an unmissable line-up of both local and international presenters and panellists. Meet some of them below:

Women in Space Health – Disrupting “Humans in Space”

Dr Rowena Christiansen (UniMelb): Space Tourism – Risk and Reward

Dr Dorit Donoviel (TRISH): Space Health on Missions Near and Far

Claudia Kessler (Astronautin GmbH): More women to space for the future of Earth

Dr Annalea Beattie (RMIT Uni): Art, institutions and healthy extraterrestrial communities