Tag Archives: David Reyes

Mars astronauts would be “on their own” for medical care

Astronauts on a mission to Mars would essentially be on their own for medical care, according to NASA flight surgeon Dr. David Reyes. With resupply or mission evacuation impossible, and with difficulty in communicating with the ground, astronauts would have to be trained and equipped to provide their own care.

Reyes gave an interesting talk about the history of space medicine last weekend at the Museum of Flight. He noted that being a flight surgeon is the opposite of being a typical doctor.

David Reyes

NASA flight surgeon Dr. David Reyes gave a talk about the history of aerospace medicine April 8, 2017 at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Regular medicine is taking care of sick people in a normal environment,” Reyes said. “Aerospace medicine is taking care of healthy people in an abnormal or unusual environment.” He added that the astronauts are usually super healthy, but the environments they deal with are challenging to say the least.

Much of the job of the flight surgeon is to help determine the medical risks of space travel, to help come up with and test gear to avert those risks, and to help astronauts learn about symptoms of conditions they may encounter.

For example, astronauts in training are put into an altitude chamber, and the air is pumped out of the chamber to simulate the atmosphere at 21,000 feet above sea level. Then they take off their oxygen masks. Reyes said this makes them “goofy” with hypoxia.

“The reason we put them in this chamber is so that they can recognize those symptoms for themselves,” Reyes said. “Everyone has a unique response to low oxygen.” If they’ve experienced it they can recognize it in the event oxygen problems occur in flight.

Mission medical kits

It was fascinating to look at the evolution of medical kits for various missions. In the days of Mercury, the kit was essentially a few bandaids, aspirin, motion sickness pills, and a couple of other remedies. It was not much more than a prudent backpacker would take on a day hike. Mercury missions were short and the astronauts, strapped into a small capsule, didn’t have to do much physical activity.

Mercury Med Kit

A Mercury medical kit. Photo: NASA

With Gemini and Apollo the kits were expanded as the missions became longer and more active, but they still weren’t all that extensive.

“This is like everything you might have in your medicine cabinet at home,” Reyes noted of the kits.

By the time of Skylab each crew received 80 hours of paramedic training. The medical kit was huge and even included a dental kit. The space shuttle went far beyond the home medicine cabinet. The International Space Station has a Crew Medical Officer who is an astronaut with additional medical training. It carries an extensive medical kit with nine different packs. It also employs a Crew Health Care System or CHCS—pronounced “checks”—that is the first robust medical system for space missions.

Given all of that, Reyes pointed out that, “Nothing really serious has happened in space flight.” Astronauts on longer missions suffer bumps and bruises and rashes, and insomnia, but the most serious condition has been a urinary tract infection on one Apollo flight.

Bones and eyes

These days the two problems they’re studying the most are bone mass loss and visual impairment. They’ve known about the bone mass challenge for a while, and it’s why the astronauts spend at least two hours per day exercising. Without it, “We’d send a 40- or 50-year-old astronaut up and they’d come back looking like an 80-year-old after six months in the space station,” Reyes said.

The vision issues only became apparent in the last seven years or so, and Reyes said they’re still researching those. A couple of things happen to some astronauts: fluid buildup in the eye because of zero gravity, and change of eye shape. They’ve developed adjustable eyeglasses should astronauts develop vision problems in flight.

Mars poses challenges

Missions to Mars would provide medical as well as ethical challenges. On all space missions so far, flight surgeons on the ground have been able to offer advice and counsel. For Mars, the long lag for radio signals, up to 22 minutes for transmission, would make conversation difficult, and during the time Mars is on the other side of the Sun from Earth there would be no communication at all.

“When you go to Mars, basically you’re on your own,” Reyes said of the astronauts.

There is debate about how much medical equipment and medicine to take on a Mars mission. Every item launched on a mission represents a tradeoff in mass and cost and whatever might not go along. An even bigger, ethical question involves what happens if an astronaut suffers a serious injury.

“If you have a limited set of supplies, and somebody gets severly injured and will require a lot of care, how much care are you going to give them?” Reyes asked. “If you use up your whole med kit, that puts everybody else at risk. So you have to think, ‘Is there some point that we’re going to withdraw care because we’re jeopardizing the rest of the mission?’”

It’s an on-going area of discussion.

Why be a flight surgeon?

Like many of us who are interested in space and astronomy, Reyes caught the bug from television.

“When I was a kid I watched the Moon landing on TV,” he said. “A black and white TV at my parents’ house.” He thought it was the coolest thing ever.

“I’ve always had an interest in space,” he added. His undergraduate major was in geology, and he studied some planetary science. He then went into the Air Force and medicine. He filled a free month during his residency with an introduction to aerospace medicine course at the University of Texas. He was drawn in by the lectures from real flight surgeons.

“This is what I want to do,” he learned.


TJO events return in a busy week

The return of the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory open houses and no less than five astronomy-club events highlight a jam-packed astro calendar for the coming week.

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryA welcome sign of spring is the return of the open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Astronomy talks and observing through the observatory’s vintage 6-inch Brashear telescope on a Warner & Swasey equatorial mount will happen on the first and third Wednesdays of the month from April through September. The first of the year will be this Wednesday, April 5, beginning at 8 p.m.

Observatory director Dr. Ana Larson will talk about the cause of the phases of the Moon as well as eclipses of the Moon and Sun, with an emphasis on this year’s total eclipse of the Sun to be seen as its shadow sweeps a path across the U.S. on August 21. Future talks will be given by UW undergraduates. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society staff the observatory dome and, if weather permits, pop the roof for a little stargazing.

While these events are free reservations are strongly recommended for the talks, which typically fill the small classroom in the observatory. In fact, reservations are already completely booked for the April 19 open house. A schedule for future talk topics will be posted soon on the observatory website.

Club events

The Olympic Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for Monday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. in room Engineering 117 at Olympic College in Bremerton. Topics will include the solar eclipse, black holes, and a movie from the club’s Camp Delaney Star Party.

The Tacoma Astronomical Society will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. Guest speaker Stephanie Anderson, co-owner of Cloud Break Optics in Ballard, will talk about astrophotography from the city. The society will also hold one of its public nights at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor presentation will be about space exploration. If the weather cooperates they’ll bring out the telescopes for some observing.

The Spokane Astronomical Society’s monthly meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7 at the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. The topic will be all about telescopes: different types, how they work, and reasons to choose one design over another.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association plans a full evening of events for Saturday, April 8, with their BP Astro Kids program about the lives of stars running at 4 p.m. and again at 5 o’clock. Their planetarium show at 7:30 p.m. will look at when galaxies collide. It all happens at their observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island.

Astronomy Night at Shorecrest

Shorecrest High School will host an astronomy night at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4. Events for all weather are planned with something for the entire family.

Science and beer

We’ll find out if beer and dark matter mix at an OMSI Science Pub on Thursday, April 6 at McMenamins Mission Theater and Pub in Portland. Astrophysicist Alison Crocker from Reed College will highlight the most convincing observations astronomers have made of dark matter. The doors open at 5 p.m. and the program begins at 7 o’clock. There’s a $5 suggested donation.

Take your space medicine

NASA Flight Surgeon David Reyes will give a lecture titled, “Space Medicine: Past, Present, and Future” at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at the Museum of Flight. Reyes will discuss the evolution of space medical capabilities over the years, and how NASA and commercial spaceflight companies might address future medical needs on a human mission to Mars. The talk is free with museum admission.

Planetarium shows galore

In addition to the Battle Point shows noted above, there are several other planetarium programs on the docket for the week. The WSU Planetarium in Pullman has a new show about sky moms that will run at 7 p.m. Friday, April 7, and repeat at 11 a.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. The program is about motherhood myths associated with the constellations.

The Pierce College Science Dome is running a show about rockets in which kids can build their own! It runs on Saturdays through May at 12:30 p.m. and again at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 and are available online.

The Willard Smith Planetarium at Pacific Science Center has a variety of shows daily. Their complete schedule is on our calendar page.

Futures file

You can scout ahead for future events on our calendar page. We’ve recently added a number of items, including:

  • A talk by Planet 9 proposer Konstantin Batygin of Caltech, a UW astronomy colloquium April 20
  • A talk by Dr. George Rieke of the James Webb Space Telescope May 18 at UW
  • Seattle Symphony performances to a screening of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey June 30 and July 1
  • A panel discussion about nearby exoplanet Proxima b May 3 at the UW

Up in the sky

It’s the best time of this year to observe Jupiter, which reaches opposition on Friday. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope offer more observing highlights for the week.


Search for meaning continues

There is a great menu of interesting talks on this week’s calendar, including three with astronomy themes at a weekend event at Seattle University.

Search for Meaning FestivalSeattle University’s annual Search for Meaning Festival will be held on the university campus all day Saturday, February 25. The festival is a community event dedicated to topics surrounding the human quest for meaning and the characteristics of an ethical and well-lived life. It draws more than 50 authors and artists who will give interactive presentations. Three of these sessions are on astronomy-related topics.

At 9 a.m. Father George Coyne, SJ, former director of the Vatican Observatory and author of Wayfarers in the Cosmos: The Human Quest for Meaning (Crossroad 2002), will discuss the history of the evolution of life in the cosmos. Coyne’s thesis is that this history may lead us to a deeper understanding of what many secular physicists say themselves about the cosmos: that a loving creator stands behind it.

At 10:45 a.m. Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (William Morrow, 2016), on which the current hit film is based, will give one of the keynote addresses at the festival. Shetterly will talk about race, gender, science, the history of technology, and much else. Reservations for Shetterly’s talk are sold out.

At 12:45 p.m. Marie Benedict, author of The Other Einstein (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2016), will explore the life of Mileva Maric, who was Albert Einstein’s first wife and a physicist herself, and the manner in which personal tragedy inspired Mileva’s possible role in the creation of Einstein’s “miracle year” theories.

Check our post from December previewing the festival, and look at the trailer video below. Tickets to the festival are $12.50 and are available online.

Siegel at Rose City

Author and astrophysicist Ethan Siegel will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Rose City Astronomers in Portland at 7:30 p.m. Monday, February 20. Siegel will talk about his book Beyond the Galaxy: How Humanity Looked Beyond Our Milky Way and Discovered the Entire Universe (World Scientific Publishing, 2015). He’ll examine the history of the expanding universe and detail, up until the present day, how cutting-edge science looks to determine, once and for all, exactly how the universe has been expanding for the entire history of the cosmos. Siegel is an informative and engaging speaker; check our recap of his talk from last year about gravitational wave astronomy.

AoT Seattle and an app for simulating the universe

AoT FebruaryAstronomy on Tap Seattle’s monthly get-together is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 22 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. Two guest speakers are planned. Dan Dixon, creator of Universe Sandbox² will give an introduction to the app, an accessible space simulator that allows you to ask fantastical what-if questions and see accurate and realistic results in real-time. It merges real-time gravity, climate, collision, and physical interactions to reveal the beauty of our universe and the fragility of our planet. University of Washington professor in astronomy and astrobiology Rory Barnes will talk about “Habitability of Planets in Complicated Systems.” It’s free, except for the beer.

TAS public night

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 25 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor presentation will be about the zodiac. If the skies are clear they’ll set up the telescopes and take a look at what’s up.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. We’ve recently added several events scheduled at the Museum of Flight, including:

Up in the sky

There will be an annular solar eclipse on Sunday, February 26, but you’ll have to be in South America or Africa to see it. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.