Australian researchers uniquely positioned to support upcoming space missions

The expertise across Australia’s space medicine community was showcased during a special event co-ordinated by the Kolling Institute and the Australasian Society of Aerospace Medicine.

Staged over two days, the colloquium involved national and international experts including representatives from the Australian Space Agency, the CSIRO, Boeing and the Australian Antarctic Program.

Presenters discussed the specific medical, dental, and psychological needs of astronauts, Australian-designed space suits and opportunities for our space community in NASA’s Artemis exploration of the moon and ultimately Mars.

Kolling Academic Director Professor Jim Elliott said Australia’s involvement in the Apollo Moon landings is well documented, but perhaps what is not well known is the depth of experience in Australia’s contemporary space industry.

“We have a tremendous depth of medical, technological and research expertise in this field,” he said.

“Australian clinicians and researchers have been collaborating with international space agencies for years. Our clinical experience and research have helped inform developments in space life sciences as our international partners recognise our unique scientific expertise.

“Some research has specifically focused on clinical advances to improve the healthcare support to astronauts.

“Our technological sector is also well placed to offer specialised support, with a consistent track record of driving innovation.

“Australian experience has driven advances in radiation protection, wearable sensors and compression suits worn by astronauts to limit the musculoskeletal effects of microgravity.”

Dr John Cherry, a director from the Australasian Society of Aerospace Medicine said Australia is in a strong position to support long duration human spaceflight missions.

“We are world leaders in rural and remote healthcare, with experience delivering care in some of the most extreme and isolated environments on earth,” he said.

“The Australian Antarctic Program for example has developed specialised training and technology to enable a generalist doctor to provide high quality medical, surgical, anaesthetic and dental care to an isolated team.

“Many of the challenges faced in these settings will be experienced by astronauts and space agencies as human spaceflight extends further into space.”

Professor Elliott said the Australian space medicine community is keen to see the medical progress as a result of the upcoming space explorations.

“It’s anticipated that some of the lessons learned in space will deliver benefits back on earth and help to drive improvements in health outcomes.

“For instance, the new knowledge around the deconditioning of astronauts in space could help doctors back home managing patients with deconditioning after long periods in hospital."