12/16/2012 09:58 am ET

Space Tourism Health Risks Spotlighted In Medical Researchers' New Analysis

By Sid Perkins

A future boom in space tourism will increasingly expose members of the public—or, at least those lucky few able to afford the ticket price—to a panoply of ailments that so far, for the most part, only superbly healthy astronauts have encountered.

In a new analysis, researchers surveyed previous studies of space medicine and compiled the list to alert doctors to the myriad ways that spaceflight might aggravate preexisting conditions among their patients, either during short suborbital flights by commercial space operators (launch of Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser depicted by an artist), weeklong jaunts to the International Space Station, or monthlong stints building or working at orbiting hotels or commercial research labs. Almost no bodily function is spared, but most ailments could be managed with drugs or with appropriate amounts and types of exercise in orbit, the researchers suggest. Besides the motion sickness, headaches, and sinus congestion possibly triggered by short flights, long-term flights might exacerbate osteoporosis, back pain, acid reflux, and certain types of cancer, as well as increase the risk of infections and kidney stones, the researchers report online today in BMJ.

The new compilation isn't just an abstract exercise, the researchers say: Previous studies suggest that once fleets of space-capable vehicles are available, commercial launch companies together might expect as many as 13,000 space tourists during their first decade of operation.

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