Sick in Space
It’s not just a problem for astronauts anymore.
- By Michael Klesius
- AirSpaceMag.com, March 09, 2009
(Page 3 of 3)
Medical doctor and two-time shuttle flier Bill Thornton, who got sick to his stomach on his first flight, STS-8, takes a scientific view of the process, calling it a “beautifully self-limiting adaptation” to an unusual environment. “Neuro-vestibular adaptation is an ancient evolutionary adaptation that conferred Darwinian survival advantages to our ancestors,” he assures, “especially to our arboreal ancestors. It’s a two-part process. The obvious component, miscalled sickness, protects the organism by more or less immobilization; while the second component, an individual adaptation, takes a day or so to reprogram components of the nervous system to allow for safe and effective activity in weightlessness.”
He admits that it tends to sneak up on you. “The first inclination you have is that you vomit your tonsils up in a couple heaves. I went on and on for about 36 hours. Then it was over, and I could do snap rolls and all the other tricks. So I had an invaluable firsthand experience.”
For some professional astronauts, the answer lies in taking antihistamines like promethizine (Phenergan), and scopalamine. But opinions are mixed about their risks. They cause drowsiness that some astronauts would rather avoid, even if it means gritting one’s teeth through a few days of space sickness. Many astronauts try to keep their heads as still as possible for the first 48 hours of a spaceflight, and definitely avoid the mirthful tumbling seen in countless film clips from orbit. Many shuttle commanders encourage their crews to remain upright with respect to each other and to any wall displays for the first few days of a flight.
Space tourism promoters may some day give similar advice to passengers bound for orbiting hotels. And if the bag has to be used, make it a good seal.