Is Space the Final Frontier for Experimental Medicine?5 min read

Approximately 1.8 million miles above the earth, Elon Musk’s red roadster is setting the precedent for the first unmanned joyride through the galaxy. The car is drifting past Mars’ orbit and heading beyond, possibly making contact with the asteroid belt on its unguided trajectory.

It seems ludicrous that cars should be floating through space, but the launch of the roadster marks a pivot point in the commercialization of space travel. SpaceX successfully launched and landed booster rockets, meaning that it’s possible to reuse launch materials for multiple trips, significantly reducing the cost of space travel and making it more accessible to the populace.

As a child, you may have dreamed of going into space, only to be dashed by life’s distractions and the selectivity of the space travel program. In the near future, however, it may not require the constitution of an astronaut to qualify for the trip.

The implications are astounding and range from bringing astronauts to and from Earth with greater frequency all the way to commercial space vacations. As the industry expands, it necessitates that other public sectors examine the role they will play in the adaptation. Most notably, perhaps (beyond the travel industry), is the medical community. The stresses of space travel are not negligible, nor are the research and medical tourism possibilities that frequent trips to outer space allow into the imagination.

Medical Research

NASA has continuously utilized the International Space Station to perform research studies and scientific experiments. Astronauts have helped develop best practices in telemedicine and microgravity treatments. Since those aboard the space station have access to fewer health care options, they’ve learned to deal with their medical needs through computer mediated treatment and the use of artificial intelligence in medical plans.

The effects of microgravity on the human body are similar to the ageing process on Earth, offering an opportunity to develop tools to combat the effects of ageing through controlled studies aboard the space station. Additionally, advances in 3D printing promise to make waves among the medical opportunities available to those in less densely populated areas.

Accessibility of Space

Research opportunities will continue to grow as resupply missions become easier to manage. Excursions will no longer have to plan for as long a time period as they do at current, but can account for more frequent and less expensive supply drops.

Along with supplies, trips to space may bring people to the space stations. For astronauts, this may mean visits from family or strategic visits from professionals. Astronauts may no longer need to go several years in space without check ups from physicians or other health professionals.

Tours of the space stations or destination visits will eventually become a reality, and the medical industry will need to develop a screening program to clear individuals for space travel. Electronic health records maintained while astronauts are in space will provide valuable data for creating screening requirements and understanding the effect space has on the body over both the short and long term.

As understanding of space travel and it’s potential risks and benefits grows, medical insurance will need to craft a response. Traditionally, travel can be covered under specific travel insurance policies that occur under extreme circumstances, and they are priced at a per-trip premium. It is likely that insurance for space travel will be constructed on a similar model, with price depending on when and where you’re traveling as well as how long you plan to stay.

Medical Tourism

The more normalized space travel becomes, the greater the probability that going into space will be just like going abroad. You’ll have options for take off times, landing areas, things to do on your stay, and the like. Your vacation will be as customizable as building days at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico — or a trip into Asia to get cosmetic surgery. And for those who are looking to save money, time, and the costly headache of medical bills, why not space, too?

As further research is done about the effect of gravity on medical treatment, internationally accredited medical facilities may start to pop up in the most unexpected reaches of human existence. Increasingly sophisticated medical trials will require the participation of humans living in space and ascribing to the rules of the study to gather valuable, controlled information about the effects of space travel.

While it may be far off to say that someday you’ll all be getting your hip replacement on Mars instead of in Asia, the idea of being a volunteer medical tourist to participate in research trials may be more feasible. Or, perhaps, the regulations of medical treatment on international space facilities will allow more people to seek experimental treatments outside of their home country — or rather, home planet.

Facing the Future

Elon Musk’s humorous launch of his Tesla roadster was as gimmicky as it was necessary, and it’s caught the eye of the public. You can track the path of roadster through space, in the same way you might someday track your child’s inaugural trip to the stars.

It may seem fantastic to say that in 20 years, you’ll be travelling to space for experimental drugs or to take part in a research study. Ten years ago, though, you would have laughed at the idea of reuseable rockets. Minimizing cost and increasing accessibility with multi-use boosters stands to revolutionize the medical research industry.

 

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Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things nature, especially humans, and was driven to pursue an Anthropology degree due to her childhood love of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft. Now she lovingly writes about all things great and small.

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