The unsuspected effects of space tourism. What is puffy face and bird feet syndrome

Space travel has numerous effects on human health, from the loss of bone and muscle mass, to exposure to radiation, or the effects of weightlessness on the vestibular system. More recently, other risks have been discovered for certain categories of people.

Space tourism image from space on Earth Source Virgin Galactic

Space medicine has so far focused on the effects of microgravity on healthy astronauts, but with the rise of space tourism, other risks to which amateur astronauts may be exposed have been discovered. Of course, the costs for such an experience are astronomical, and therefore the safety of payers must be commensurate.

Space tourists in a ship

Space tourism – image of Earth from space Source Virgin Galactic

Scientists’ warnings about the effects of space travel

Space tourism, while an emerging and fascinating field, still has too many unknowns, especially regarding aspects related to the effects of microgravity on the human body.

“Heart failure affects over 100 million people globally”, said Dr. Lex van Loon, assistant professor at the Australian National University and the University of Twente – Netherlands, co-author of a study published on the Frontiers website, cited by “The National”. He thus wanted to draw attention to non-professional astronauts with pre-existing conditions who could be affected by microgravity during a journey in space.

As microgravity causes redistribution of body fluids and changes in the cardiovascular system, it could pose significant health risks to older space tourists, putting pressure on those with weak hearts, scientists have warned.

Rocket in space

Space Tourism Photo Shuttersock

Elderly and at-risk heart failure patients in space

Professional astronauts usually go through intensive physical training before missions, but with the development of space tourism, those willing to travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere have often been found to be older and less physically fit than before.

Dr. Lex van Loon and his colleagues used models to simulate space conditions and see how such people would fare in space, and the results of the study were worrying.

“Our simulations showed that entering microgravity increases cardiac output in all individuals. However, for patients with heart failure, this increase in cardiac output is accompanied by a dangerous increase in left atrial pressure, which can lead to pulmonary edema – a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.”researchers described the risks of space travel for the elderly.

Space tourism – the last frontier

It is certain that space tourism is becoming more and more popular, despite the exorbitant prices involved in such a trip.

By mid-June alone, Virgin Galactic — one of the big three companies that monopolize the space travel market alongside SpaceX and Blue Origin — had launched six people into suborbital space, including three paying space tourists, at a cost of about $450,000/person

It was the last flight of the VSS Unity spacecraft before Virgin Galactic developed the next generation of Delta spacecraft. The company hopes that these will allow for more frequent flight operations.

In this context, scientists draw attention to the risks to which space tourists are subject. Dr. van Loon, for example, noted that the results of his study underscore the importance of further research into the long-term effects of such space travel on cardiovascular health.

Integrating technologies into studies to find ways to mitigate risks

He spoke about the development of human digital twins – a highly detailed virtual model of an individual’s physiological systems that could be used to further safety studies in these space journeys: “This approach would enable personalized risk assessments and tailored countermeasures”.

In practice, we would find out how various heart conditions react to the stress of space tourism: “The dream of space travel is closer than ever, but with it comes the responsibility to understand and mitigate the health risks associated with this new frontier. As we continue to push the boundaries of exploration, the integration of advanced technologies such as human digital twins will be crucial to protecting the health and well-being of all who venture into the final frontier.”

As I said, microgravity also has effects on the immune system, astronauts being at risk of developing infections and skin conditions. The changes seen in human cells in space are also seen as we age, which has helped the researchers build a picture of how immune system cells, such as lymphocytes and monocytes, are altered by reduced gravity.

The process alters cell function at the individual cell level – changes that are also seen during the normal aging process.

On this occasion it was also discovered that a plant pigment called quercetin reversed about 70% of the changes caused by the lack of gravity.

Puffy face and bird feet syndrome

In the new era of space tourism, older people who dream of exploring the “last frontier” must be aware of a specific syndrome caused by microgravity.

Called informal “swollen face and bird feet syndrome”this phenomenon occurs due to the redistribution of fluids in the body when exposed to zero gravity environments, because fluids in the human body tend to move from the lower part of the body to the upper part.

This can cause swelling of the face and thinning of the legs, and in older space tourists, it can pose additional risks as it can exacerbate pre-existing health problems and create significant discomfort.

In addition to rigorous medical examinations, before such space travel, it is suggested to develop specially designed training programs to prepare the body for the unique conditions of space.

It is therefore crucial, as space tourism becomes more accessible, that all interested persons are well informed about some of the dangers in space and prepared to face the physical challenges such an adventure brings.