What happens if an astronaut gets sick in space?


We received the following question from one of our subscribers:

In general, they try to prevent diseases in space. Therefore, cosmonauts undergo a comprehensive medical examination before being sent into space. A sick person or a person at risk of health problems will simply not be allowed to fly. In addition, before being sent into space, astronauts go through quarantine to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases into space from Earth.

However, of course, it is impossible to 100% prevent health problems in space. Therefore, the ISS has a medical center containing a wide range of medical supplies, medical equipment such as defibrillators, ventilators, surgical instruments and much more. In addition, about 10% of cosmonauts and astronauts have a medical education, so there is almost always a doctor on board the ISS. Also on Earth — in NASA and Roscosmos, doctors are on duty around the clock who can advise the crew if necessary.

Depending on the severity of the situation, the sick cosmonaut can be assisted on board the station, or, in severe cases, he will be evacuated to Earth in the Soyuz descent vehicle.

NASA has developed a classification of medical problems:

Examples of diseases and medical problems in the latter class are:

Etc. If evacuation is necessary for medical reasons, the injured crew member, accompanied by two more cosmonauts, is immediately evacuated to Earth on board the Soyuz capsule.

In general, medical problems in space occur regularly. So for the period from 1981 to 1998, nearly 2000 various diseases and disorders were diagnosed in American astronauts traveling on board the shuttles. True, slightly more than half of these cases were associated with the body’s habituation to weightlessness and nutrition on board the station.

But at the same time, there were more than 150 cases of skin damage, more than 100 cases of dislocations and fractures, 26 cases of infectious diseases, 23 diseases of the genitourinary system, etc. Among Soviet and Russian cosmonauts, the statistics are similar, adjusted for the number of flights and the time spent in space.

At the same time, in the entire history of space flights, there have been several cases when cosmonauts or astronauts had to return to Earth earlier than the planned end of the mission due to medical problems. So, in particular, American astronauts were evacuated to Earth due to renal colic and cardiac arrhythmias, and the Soviet cosmonaut — due to exacerbation of chronic prostatitis, which was not detected during pre-flight examination.