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Human Health and Performance Risks of Space Exploration Missions

Evidence Reviewed by the NASA Human Research Program - Radiation and Cancer, Behavioral Health, EVA, Spacesuits (NASA SP-2009-3405)

David N. Spires

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


This official NASA scientific report - converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction - discusses the current state of knowledge for many of the important risks to human health on future space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, examining the evidence gathered by the NASA Human Research Program on manned flights including the Apollo missions and the ISS expeditions. Hazards included in this document include:

Chapter 1 - Risk of Behavioral and Psychiatric Conditions * Chapter 2 - Risk of Performance Errors Due to Poor Team Cohesion and Performance, Inadequate Selection/Team Composition, Inadequate Training, and Poor Psychosocial Adaptation * Chapter 3 - Risk of Performance Errors Due to Sleep Loss, Circadian Desynchronization, Fatigue, and Work Overload * Space Radiation * Chapter 4 - Risk of Radiation Carcinogenesis * Chapter 5 - Risk of Acute Radiation Syndromes Due to Solar Particle Events * Chapter 6 - Risk of Acute or Late Central Nervous System Effects from Radiation Exposure * Chapter 7 - Risk of Degenerative Tissue or Other Health Effects from Radiation Exposure * Exploration Medical Capabilities * Chapter 8 - Risk of Inability to Adequately Treat an Ill or Injured Crew Member * Space Human Factors and Habitability * Chapter 9 - Risk of Error Due to Inadequate Information * Chapter 10 - Risk of Reduced Safety and Efficiency Due to Inadequately Designed Vehicle * Environment, Tools, or Equipment * Chapter 11 - Risk of Error Due to Poor Task Design * Chapter 12 - Risk Factor of Inadequate Food System * Chapter 13 - Risk of Adverse Health Effects from Lunar Dust Exposure * Exercise and Extravehicular Activity * Chapter 14 - Risk of Compromised EVA Performance and Crew Health Due to Inadequate EVA Suit Systems * Chapter 15 - Risk of Operational Impact of Prolonged Daily Required Exercise.

Many fascinating examples of health and behavioral issues during human spaceflight missions are revealed in this report. For example, did you know that:

In 1976, during the Soyuz- 21 mission to the Salyut-5 space station, the crew was brought home early after the cosmonauts complained of a pungent odor. No source for this odor was ever found, nor did other crews smell it. Since the crew had not been getting along, the odor may have been a hallucination.

Cosmonaut Lebedev admitted that he disregarded safety procedures when he became frustrated. In his haste to access new letters from home, he did not wear safety goggles because "they fogged up, but if metal dust had entered my eye the flight would have ended."

Anecdotal evidence from space flight suggests that astronauts and cosmonauts at times engage in disruptive coping behaviors that could presage larger behavioral issues.

Evidence from the Apollo Program reveals that some of the Apollo crews reported serious mental fatigue while they were performing lunar EVAs.

In some cases during lunar surface EVAs, astronaut urine was not fully contained and resulted in skin irritation.

One Apollo astronaut suffered a wrist laceration from the suit wrist ring while working with drilling equipment, and another crew member sustained wrist soreness due to the suit sleeve rubbing repeatedly. One crew member injured his shoulder during a lunar EVA while attempting to complete multiple surface activities on a tight mission timeline. Unbeknownst to his flight surgeon, this crew member later took large doses of aspirin to relieve the pain. Many Apollo astronauts noted problems with their hands.